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John (London, London United Kingdom)

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Doctor Who: The Key to Time (Limited Edition Numbered Complete 7 Disc Box set) [DVD]
Doctor Who: The Key to Time (Limited Edition Numbered Complete 7 Disc Box set) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tom Baker
Offered by Callums Cheaper Items - CUSTOMER IS PRIORITY NUMBER 1
Price: 32.64

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag, but fun &, unexpectedly perhaps, stylish, 19 Oct 2007
It was rather salutary watching these stories after ploughing through Time-Flight & Arc of Infinity recently. The Key To Time stories have a rather tatty, dashed-off quality, in terms of both writing & production, but what struck me in comparison with the confused, bickersome Davidson/Nyssa/Tegan team-up was how witty, charming & stylish they are. Tom Baker & Mary Tamm (& K-9) play off each other in a continually entertaining way & the writing manages to be adult, sharp & funny while being accessible to children (the reverse of the Arc of Infinity, which had childish dialogue & was incomprehensible in its premisses).

The Ribos Operation was the story I had least fond memories of, being studio-bound & faux-medieval & essentially slight, but the restoration team have really given it a pleasing visual tone: it came across as stylised & quite richly textured & coloured rather than something cheaply shot on video. There's a sense of fun to the whole thing, though there's definitely a sense that everyone - particularly the excellent Ian Cuthbertson - has only the barest grasp on his or her lines, & is stumbling through getting them right for one take.

The Pirate Planet is the most intelligent story, & the most science-fictional. The restoration team went back (I think) to the original negatives for all the exterior footage, shot on film, with the curious result that the drab, muddy & nondescript bits of moorland suddenly look rich & lively, instead of letting the whole thing down. Douglas Adams' script is, dare I say, wildly uneven: the early scenes of the Doctor & Romana trying to meet the natives are slightly desperate comedy, with the inhabitants of Zanak (who think the stars are simply lights in the sky) responding to Romana's conversational gambits with an implausibly urbane sophistication - & the really intelligent conceptual twists & turns are mostly compressed into the last episode, when explanations get slightly rushed. But the performances are fun, & it is full of wit, and is highly entertaining. Romana gets my favourite line, when the Mentiads' mental powers are blocked: 'So much for the paranormal,' she says, snatching up a ray-gun to despatch a guard. Extras include an extended scene explaining the relationship between the Mentiads' telepathic awareness & the space-jumping,& establishing that the slightly drab circular light that features in their cave-set is an image seared into all their minds each time the life-force dies. During the credits of a reminsicence extra someone has rendered a cgi polyphase avitron that works rather well, & it would have been fun to see the cso replaced with cgi, & the parrot given some sort of ray weapon rather than rather embarassingly attempt to on K-9.

Androids of Tara is a lively, good-looking Ruritanian fantasy, that scores points for having so much location footage (in good weather, for once). Again the video footage as well as the film footage has been attractively restored so it looks colourful & not cheap. If the story has a weakness it's that the sci-fi element - the androids - aren't convincingly incorporated into the quasi-historical setting, & it's at that sort of point that the dashed-off nature of the writing is laid bare. It comes with a rather charming documentary that revisits the locations & shows us how they look today, sometimes managing to match shots very closely indeed.

Stones of Blood is great fun, again winning points for really charming casting. The location work is shot on video, but looks surprisingly good, & not unlike film, & creates a more coherent look to the story. In the extras is an extended scene including the wonderful exchange (in the face of an Ogri attack), 'We could be in Plymouth in an hour!' 'Plymouth!?' This scene was simply incorporated into the episode in the region 1 version. Okay, the Megara aren't very impressive - but rewatching it I felt that at least the flashing, floating lights weren't clunky badly-done robots with light-bulbs on top of them or people in silver bodystockings. Interesting interviews with stars, director, writer, and designer. Mary Tamm narrates a brief documentary about the Rolright Stones, where the story was set, quite badly, I think, but is otherwise charming. And she is very interesting on her character, career & why she chose to leave the show.

I'm quite fond of The Power Of Kroll, which has some very witty moments, particularly between Rhon Dutt, the Doctor & Romana, as well as some plain bad ones - for instance a holy book that seems to be sitting in a puddle of water at the bottom of a well for no good reason. If only anyone had loved this story enough to redo the model shots! They don't look quite as bad as one might expect, & Kroll in & of itself is quite a well-made monster, & there's some attempt at a commentary on colonialism & racism. The swampy locations look rather good, I think.

And on to another unpopular yarn, The Armageddon Factor. It is rather sparse & drab, & has some conceptual confusions around the Shadow's planet (actually seems to be a space station) that prevents the Doctor & Romana seeing Zeos from space because it's between Zeos & Atrios - which wouldn't obscure their view. And since the Shadow's trying to contrive a war between Zeos and Atrios, why would he stick his planet directly in between them? And so on. However, I find it a very well-paced story that clips along fast, injects new ideas as it goes along, & builds to a lively (albeit slightly confused) conclusion, & has an enjoyable bleakness.

The chemistry between Mary Tamm & Tom Baker makes the entire season a pleasure to watch & in the main offsets the constricted production values. Alas, some dramatic moments fall flat because they don't have the resources to do them properly, and the whole notion of an epic quest is barely even burlesqued, never mind made the most of, but I found the Key to Time good fun, & a progression of the Graham Williams aesthetic that found its apotheosis in City of Death the following year. Each story comes with at least one commentary (the region 1 one), & most have a further one - for which they've more often managed to procure Tom Baker. I began listening to the Armageddon Factor & it was mostly old thesps rambling on, but if you do the ironing to it it's pleasant enough, & the odd interesting snippet emerges. Each story also has a reminiscence featurette, & again these are mildly interesting & always endearing.

Infidel: My Life
Infidel: My Life
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.23

37 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, honest and moving, 14 Feb 2007
This review is from: Infidel: My Life (Paperback)
I bought this book on impulse, knowing only that Ayaan Hirsi Ali had made a controversial film about women in Islam with Theo Van Gogh, who had later been murdered by a Muslim extremist. I worried it might be rather dull, but in fact it's one of the most compelling books I've read in years, full of wonderful insights and perceptions about the differences between cultures, (Somalian, Saudi Arabian, Kenyan and Dutch), about the clash between traditional ways of living and modernity; about the experience of being a refugee, and about the experience of growing up Muslim and female in both Muslim and Christian countries. She seems to me very honest about herself and her struggles with the belief-system she grew up in. Her analysis of the role Islam plays in the negative aspects of many Muslim people's lives - particularly the oppression of women and the suppression of the individual's quest for answers in life (beyond those given in the Quran) - is cogent and logical. Contrary to some reviews I've noticed since I bought the book she doesn't lump all Muslims together as if they were the same; indeed she is very alert to the nuances of belief in her mother, father, sister and friends.

I found Infidel almost impossible to put down. It put me in the headspace of a Somali Muslim woman in the most vivid and immediate way, and reminded me of how powerful a thing the written word can be. I should add that as well as sometimes having the grip of a thriller Infidel is often drily funny and gently self-mocking.

Doctor Who - The Beginning (An Unearthly Child [1963] / The Daleks [1963] / The Edge of Destruction [1964]) [DVD]
Doctor Who - The Beginning (An Unearthly Child [1963] / The Daleks [1963] / The Edge of Destruction [1964]) [DVD]
Dvd ~ William Hartnell
Price: 10.70

85 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As near to how they originally looked as they'll ever be..., 10 Feb 2006
I'd seen all these stories as they were released over the years on video, out of order, in visually and audially low-grade editions, so it was interesting to sit down and watch them in order, and with restored visuals and much improved sound. It's surprising how much having sharper images and clearer sound improves even the dullest story, and reminds one that 1963 wasn't so very long ago - whereas the original video releases were so low-grade they made one feel that Doctor Who was made around the same time as The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari.
The first story, An Unearthly Child, is pacey, atmospheric and compelling. The following three episode yarn, The Tribe Of Gum, has good moments but crawls along with about fifteen minutes of plot stretched out for an hour and a quarter. The Daleks is pretty much gripping throughout, with only a few flabby or clunky moments, and one can see why it was that story that really put the show on the map: the Daleks themselves really are a Sixties design classic. The Edge Of Destruction is a weird psychological two-parter that again (despite a limp denoument and generally wobbly science) held my attention pretty well for a show over 40 years old.
What most struck me most rewatching these stories, and for the first time in order, was how grim and serious the feel of them is: Ian and Barbara are all but abducted in An Unearthly Child; the cavemen and women in the Tribe Of Gum are starving and murderous; everyone almost dies of radiation poisoning in The Daleks and genocide is planned; stabbings and stranglings are threatened several times in The Edge Of Destruction. The two teachers are often at odds with the selfish, capricious Doctor and his strange grand-daughter, and so, despite the codas that end each story, there is a general lack of reassurance that is unusual in a television programme aimed at children. Moreover, partly because of budgetary and filming constraints there is little heroic derring-do in any of these stories in the escapist Buck Rogers sense; indeed fighting tends to be presented as dirty and dangerous.
In that context it was interesting and informative to watch the accompanying documentaries, perhaps most particularly the (40-odd minute) one about the genesis of the show, which was very consciously constructed to be a ratings hit in the slot between the afternoon's sport and the very popular Juke Box Jury, when the traditional children's classic serial that was currently being run in that slot had viewers turning off or over in droves. The resistance to populism within the BBC hierarchy made it rather hard for programmers to actively court a wide or mass audience - as evidenced by a research document the BBC commissioned about what sorts of science fiction themes might be 'acceptable' to base TV shows around which concluded that only time travel and ESP were classy enough for the BBC.
While Sidney Newman is always trumpeted as a populist imported to bring the BBC a mass audience, it's interesting to note that he favoured educational yarns set in the past and opposed stories featuring bug-eyed monsters as vociferously as the BBC mandarins. In effect he felt that Verity Lambert had conned him into accepting the Daleks, and of course only did accept them because the next story, Marco Polo, wasn't ready in time to be broadcast straight after The Tribe Of Gum.
Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein come across engagingly both in the interviews in the documentaries and on the commentary tracks, and seem to remember their involvement in the show with genuine affection, as do William Russell and Carol Anne Ford. As on The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, having an informed moderator on the commentary tracks keeps them focussed and they're all at least mildly interesting.
It's fun to watch the three versions of An Unearthly Child and notice the quite numerous small changes to the script, performances and direction. Everyone's performances are markedly better the second time around; in the first version I definitely had a sense of the actors just getting through their lines rather than doing much in the way of acting or characterisation. Again it's historically interesting that the episode was remounted for quality reasons (as well as its being eclipsed by Kennedy's assassination), an expensive decision that was made only because Doctor Who was seen as an important show from the get-go.
The restoration looks to be as good as it can ever be, and brings the viewer as close to seeing the programmes as originally broadcast as is ever likely to be possible. I have to say I enjoyed watching all these dvds rather more than I was expecting to. Even the under-powered Tribe Of Gum was worth revisiting.
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Pioneer DV-370S Silver Multi-region DVD Player
Pioneer DV-370S Silver Multi-region DVD Player

15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars took me a while to sort out problems..., 9 Nov 2004
At first like one or two of the other reviewers here I had problems with this dvd player - it played region 2 discs fine, but not region 1, despite it being multiregion. Amazon sent me a replacement player (with great promptness) but I had the same problem with that one. What it boiled down to was, my TV was very old, and I'd been running my old dvd player through my VCR into the TV. When I bought a new TV and plugged the Pioneer into it directly with a SCART lead - hey presto, it instantly played region 1 dvds fine (in fact rather better than my old player). Basically the manufacturers have added some sort of blocker to stop you running the dvd player through the video (to stop someone from running off bootleg copies, presumably). What confused me - & possibly other reviewers who've had problems - was that when I ran it through the VCR initially it played region 2 dvds fine, so it didn't occur to me that it not playing region 1 ones was due to a copyright blocker. Other than that, 5 stars - but I can't but dock a star for the time-consuming irritation & confusion, all of which was engendered by an extraneous 'blocker' element that hasn't been installed in previous dvd players I've owned.

House Of Doom (Box Set) [DVD]
House Of Doom (Box Set) [DVD]
Dvd ~ The House of Doom Collection

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but incompetent Italian horror trash, 24 Nov 2003
A box-set of 4 Italian horror movies - House Of Clocks, Sweet House of Horrors, House of Witchcraft, House of Lost Souls - from the early 80s, all with a haunted house theme. Originally they were intended to be a TV series (Houses of Doom), but were deemed too gory for transmission, & are here presented in 'uncut' (rather than 'extreme' - i.e. still cut) versions. The gore is on the whole trashy & ludicrous (as when a child's head is torn off by a possessed washing-machine in House of Lost Souls), and is often extremely unconvincing (severed heads boiling in a pot in House of Witchcraft that look so like mannequin's dummies, & so unlike the real thing, that the viewer is confused by the response of the characters to them). Although the films gesture towards atmospheric classics like the (original) Haunting, they always become crass and garish as they go along, and are usually over-lit. Characterisation is generally flat & inept, & poor structuring deprives all of the films of much genuine suspense - for instance, in House of Clocks (probably the best of the four) we see that the elderly couple are murderous psychos right at the start, so when they later start killing the burglars (from beyond the grave) it comes as no surprise. In House of Lost Souls everyone keeps saying how cold & rainy it is, but the landscape is dry & they don't bother doing any 'I'm cold' acting (such as buttoning coats right the way up when outside). On display are cack-handed 'reimaginings' of The Innocents (Sweet House of Horrors) & The Shining (House of Lost Souls). House of Clocks is the most original of the four, & probably the best-paced one, tho all of them have a certain trashy entertainment value. Bad films from the pens & lenses of the makers of, amongst other things, such classics as Cannibal Holocaust, & as such, these are a guilty pleasure. The sort of collection you'd do better to borrow from a friend than buy yourself, as you'll be unlikely to want to watch any of these more than once. On the plus side all are presented in widescreen & the digital transfer is of very good quality, so they look as good as they're ever going to. No extras, except a few trailers (including one for Cannibal Holocaust).

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