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Doctor Who: The Vault
Doctor Who: The Vault
by Marcus Hearn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.00

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent celebration for fans old and new, 13 Nov. 2013
This review is from: Doctor Who: The Vault (Hardcover)
This book has a deep-blue, slightly cushioned cover that gives it a weighty feel (no dust jacket). This high quality feel extends to the contents, which will be of interest to fans old and new.

Rather than just putting out a collection of much-reissued photos and a basic overview within the text, author Marcus Hearn has produced a wealth of new images and production documents within chapters for each year of 'Doctor Who', each of which focuses on a specific theme or controversy of the whole programme but associated with that time. For example, a chapter on the Master is placed at '1971' because that's when the character first appeared, but the information covers the life of the character up to John Simm in the 21st-century series. As another example, the '1980' section explores the years of John Nathan-Turner, the programme's most controversial producer, including a candid assessment and quotes from various people who were at the BBC in the 1980s, helpfully placed at the year when John took up the producer's reins. This sort of information will be of interest to long-standing fans. General readers will enjoy chapters on the companions, aliens, and so on, and will probably find the chapters on special effects, the novelisations, the comics, and so on a curiosity. The book thus appeals to different types of reader, and is also good for just browsing through to look at the pictures.

The organisation by year introduces events according to broadcast date rather than production, so for example the opener to 1981 includes information on both Tom Baker's final episodes and the casting of Peter Davison, but also a short section on the 'Five Faces of Doctor Who' BBC repeats that year and the spin-off 'K-9 and Company'.

All in all, this is one of the best celebrations of the series and well-worth a purchase.

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl [DVD] [2009]
Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Yukie Kawamura
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast-moving fun for gore fans, 18 Jun. 2011
Described in the DVD extras by one of the directors, Yoshihiro Nishimura, as a "romantic comedy", this fast-moving gore-fest inhabits a parallel world where a human body gushes thousands of litres of blood, dismembered limbs twist through the air in impossible ways, and Tokyo's high schools are inhabited by serial killers, stalkers and teenage students who appear to be pushing 30. And one of them's a vampire.

If you can get past the title, this film is an enjoyable romp, with a directorial style of fast cuts and almost non-stop action which, as you might expect, comes before a deep, meaningful plot. Nevertheless, Nishimura and co-director Naooyuki Tomomatsu take the opportunity to parody various sub-cultures, scouring a big if very sick hit with the high-school wrist-cutting team, only to fall heavily with the 'ganguro' girls, one of whom has the usual dark makeup supplemented with a grotesque, huge-lipped mask. An obvious parody of sub-cultures which seek to imitate stereotypical aspects of other cultural groups without understanding them, the directors nevertheless go too far in order to prove their point, souring what was otherwise shaping up to be possibly the best film of its kind.

It's worth looking out for some nice cameos from Takashi Shimizu, director of the Ju-On films, and Eihi Shiina, best known for Tokyo Gore Police and Audition. Yukihide Benny, another Gore Police veteran, also makes an appearance as a Portuguese(!) vampire hunter; look out for him in Shiina's scene and consider how Caucasian actors with their eyes taped back must have looked to Asian viewers of the day.

The DVD includes a few extras which are worth a look, including a lengthy making-of documentary narrated by former special effects assistant and occasional porn star Maki Mizui, who also has a cameo role in the film. The film was shot in two weeks in a freezing February, and gives an insight into how a Japanese low-budget film set is a place where even the stars have to muck in at times. Trailers and a Q-and-A chaired by Sayaka Kametani (yes, also an actor here) complete the disc.

K9 Series One Volume One. [DVD]
K9 Series One Volume One. [DVD]
Dvd ~ Philippa Coulthard
Price: £27.75

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars How Sarah Jane might have been..., 21 Feb. 2011
Spin-offs from Doctor Who are difficult to get right because supporting characters rarely have enough development to merit a show of their own. While 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' strikes the right balance of original adventures and connections to the parent series, the producers of this series had their work cut out, with a robot dog and no crossovers with 'Doctor Who' allowed, and provide a good example of how bad the SJA could have been.

Early episodes do not provide much encouragement. The acting is often as shaky as the accents, and you wonder why K9 couldn't have landed in Australia instead, so we didn't have to grimace through initially-inexperienced young actors getting to grips with new accents along with their new roles. Still, this is London many years from now, and it's no stretch to imagine that the accents of Britain might have picked up an Antipodean twang or two in the intervening decades. Sadly, the scriptwriters have K9 acting rather out-of-character at times - though we can put this down to his scrambled memory - and at least his new ability to fly solves a fundamental mobility problem that plagued his time on 'Doctor Who' right from day one. Equally welcome is the wonderful John Leeson, who was the original voice of K9. I can't forgive the odd bone design on K9's front panel, though.

Thankfully, things improve a little over the course of the series, which at times threatens to become a really great adventure series. But with cardboard characters and very little budget, the cast and crew struggle to find interesting things to do. There are some shockingly poor performances here and there at times, and plots that would rarely engage any but the youngest viewers.

It was nice to spot the odd sly reference to 'Doctor Who' - look in the book in what's probably the best episode, 'The Curse of Anubis', and check out who's won the lottery according to a TV news ticker in an earlier episode - but the whole thing feels worse off for severing any connection to the Time Lord. Simply put, a main character who is a robot does not have the depth to support his own series, and the scriptwriters are also lumbered with finding increasingly implausible ways to disable K9 and prevent him ending the episode 15 minutes early with a blast from his nose-laser. K9 has no-one like him to interact with, as no real human emotions, and can't even pick things up! I hope that the other characters will broaden to compensate. I particularly like Darius, whose mysterious background would be worth more exploration; actor Daniel Webber is probably the best of the three young leads.

Overall, some potential, but it would do well to draw lessons from Sarah Jane.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 4, 2011 3:17 PM BST

The Second Coming [DVD]
The Second Coming [DVD]
Dvd ~ Christopher Eccleston
Price: £3.90

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doctor Who ancestor is outstanding in its own right, 16 July 2010
This review is from: The Second Coming [DVD] (DVD)
A long list of people subsequently found in the 2005- series of Doctor Who worked on this, notably Christopher Eccleston in a performance that seems to have formed the template for his Doctor two years later. Of course, the writer and executive producer of The Second Coming also took those credits for the new sci-fi series, and there are many parallels in terms of plotting and characterisation that the two share. For example, despite the storyline, this show is really about a character other than Eccleston's Son of God; in the second episode, he appears only sparingly as Lesley Sharp's Judith takes centre stage. A similar approach recurs throughout Eccleston's year as the Doctor, when it seemed that anyone but the Time Lord himself would save the day.

When the plot does move back to Eccleston, the actor shines: he does comedy, terror, power, forgiveness, and is totally convincing throughout. The script's atheist message is appended at the close of a plot that starts on the assumption that the Christian story is true, but the religious aspect of this tale really gives way in the mind of the viewer to a simply appreciation of all those who worked on it.

Learners (BBC) [2007] [DVD]
Learners (BBC) [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ David Tennant
Price: £14.68

3.0 out of 5 stars Above-average drama; nice little curiosity for Doctor Who viewers, 16 July 2010
This review is from: Learners (BBC) [2007] [DVD] (DVD)
This is a good, solid, above-average drama which veers - rather like Bev's driving - between drama and comedy. For Doctor Who aficionados it is something of a cast reunion, Shaun Dingwall and Jessica Hynes both having appeared with Tennant in that show; and while Dingwall performs the down-on-his-luck wheeler-dealer in both, Hynes and Tennant get to play very different characters from those in their sci-fi outings.

All of the cast give it their all, although Tennant - despite his image being used to promote the programme - is actually not in it very much. This is very much about Hynes's Bev, and Tennant's Chris gets very little character development. It is worth watching the short scenes of Tennant as Chris more than once to see how the actor puts in little gestures and movements that provide more depth to the character's emotions than the script alone; and, as in ITV's 2005 drama 'Secret Smile', his character is a world away from the Time Lord. Hynes too shows off her range as an actor; watch this, then see her performances in Doctor Who as an Edwardian nurse and a little cameo as that character's descendant in Tennant's Who swan-song. Also worth appreciating are the actors playing the other driving school clients, who all have their own idiosyncrasies.

Otherwise, the story suffers from not being very funny; it would have been better-sold as a light drama. Worth watching if you admire the cast and in particular if you have ever been a learner driver.

Nicci French: Secret Smile
Nicci French: Secret Smile
Offered by NextDayEntertainment
Price: £23.26

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great actors, but don't think too much about the plot, 16 July 2010
This review is from: Nicci French: Secret Smile (DVD)
A wonderful cast with David Tennant's performance standing out: creepy, dangerous, psychotic. Unfortunately, good actors, direction and scripting are let down by the deeply implausible plot and, in particular, the ending. If it hadn't been for Tennant, it would have almost felt like a waste of two hours. But watch it and see what you think.

Paul Merton in China [DVD]
Paul Merton in China [DVD]
Dvd ~ Paul Merton

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fish-out-of-water perspective, 16 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Paul Merton in China [DVD] (DVD)
Paul Merton presents a guide to offbeat China from the perspective of someone not at all familiar with Chinese culture. Refreshingly, Paul is prepared to say what he is not enjoying in his experiences (e.g. kung fu, fake Western-style houses) as well as pay tribute to those aspects of Chinese culture that truly fascinate him (e.g Chinese innovation, Shanghai's atmosphere, etc.).

As Paul is a comedian brought up in the UK with the negative images of modern China as well as the positives, and not a seasoned traveller familiar with all sides of the country's political and social situation, do not expect a totally serious, deferential documentary; we get a man who drives his wife crazy building robots rather than a trip to the Great Wall, for instance, and a couple of times he sneaks off to attempt to film what the authorities would rather he and the viewer didn't see. But there are plenty of in-depth books and documentaries available that chart China's history and places in a more formal, heavily political way.

Language to Go Upper Intermediate Students Book: Upper Intermediate Students Book
Language to Go Upper Intermediate Students Book: Upper Intermediate Students Book
by Simon (ed) Greenall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.50

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good overall material and accompanying audio is recommended, 4 Feb. 2010
I have used this book for several classes and have found that the lessons and accompanying material to be very useful, with lots of room to adapt them to the students' own needs. I use it with students of varying ability, and was able to rework the material for each level. Each lesson comprises one double-page spread with interesting pictures and topics, all designed to teach specific points of grammar, vocabulary and so on, but without distorting the material in contrived ways.

I also think that the audio CD is very good; although, as usual, people are clearly reading from a script, the actors use natural intonation and speed most of the time, with mostly native (majority British) accents. There are also a few fluent non-native accents used. Other books I have encountered have come with some very odd-sounding listening material indeed. There is also a Teacher's Book which has lots of extra material and lesson guidelines.

I think that authors of these books write them with the expectation that the teacher will adapt, skip over or rework much of the material in each lesson. I think it helps for lesson material to be somewhat formulaic because it's easy for the teacher to find things and work on any changes. In contrast, I found the 'Headway' series confusing in this respect.

Torchwood: Complete BBC Series 1 Box Set [2006] [DVD]
Torchwood: Complete BBC Series 1 Box Set [2006] [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Barrowman
Price: £15.50

10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Featurettes and other extras, 7 Dec. 2007
One star knocked off for the episodes - mostly good or okay with a few stinkers - and another star off for the extras on this box set.

The set appears to comprise the original three DVD releases and some featurettes included then, for example on the launch of the programme. A sticker on the shrinkwrap identifies further extras on this release as commentaries on all 13 episodes, plus the making-of documentaries 'Torchwood Declassified', which were once available on-line and now appear here on a separate disc. Unfortunately, there is some overlap between these and the other featurettes - you will find yourself watching many of the same interviews again to get to sequences that are exclusive to one or the other. Confusingly, the Declassifieds are also labelled 'Cutdowns', as though they've been hacked to pieces like the notorious Doctor Who Confidential series, but each one lasts about 10 minutes, apparently as broadcast.

The extras themselves are generally good: funny out-takes are included (I got the feeling, sadly, that the Torchwood team had far more fun making this than I did watching it); John Barrowman has an amusing video diary, and for commentary fans such as myself a production team talking about making TV is always welcome. It would've been nice to have heard Naoko Mori for the commentary on the Toshiko-centred episode, but this is just a minor quibble. Overall this set is worth a buy if you haven't already collected the three separate releases.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 3, 2011 4:58 PM GMT

A Conversation Book 2: English in Everyday Life: Bk. 2
A Conversation Book 2: English in Everyday Life: Bk. 2
by Tina Kasloff Carver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £28.70

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-illustrated book with plenty of lessons, 15 Nov. 2007
I've been using this book for a couple of years in conversation classes with Japanese university students. It's well-illustrated, which is good for encouraging discussion, and there is a wide choice of lessons (10 units each of about 7-10, over one or two double-page spreads). It is better-suited to students in an English-speaking country, particularly the USA (American English, and lessons on such matters as understanding your 'paycheck'), but this didn't matter as there are so many lessons. I didn't think so much of the audio tapes, as the dialogues weren't particularly naturalistic, but the material is interesting, entertaining and gives the teacher considerable freedom to go into more or less depth as appropriate.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 2, 2014 10:10 PM BST

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