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M. Kidger "bristolcity" (Madrid, Spain)

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The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volumes 1-3, Volumes 4-6 (Everyman's Library)
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volumes 1-3, Volumes 4-6 (Everyman's Library)
by Edward Gibbon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £87.93

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely set, 23 Feb. 2016
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This is a beautiful box set. I have always been fascinated by Roman history and Gibbon is the book that everyone has heard of, but probably hardly anyone has ever seen and less read, although Isaac Asimov made no bones about the fact that "Decline and Fall" was his inspiration for the Foundation Trilogy and that his story and the quotes from the Encyclopedia Galactica imitated Gibbon's history. A colleague bought this boxed set and showed it off to me and I have to admit that I fell in love with it. Bottle green binding. Size convenient to read, this is a facsimile of an early 20th Century printing. Unlikely some reproductions, all Gibbon's extensive footnotes are there.

For anyone whose view of Roman history is a mixture of "I Claudius", "Gladiator" and "Spartacus", this is a real eye-opener. Gibbon wastes little time on the history of Rome up to the 3rd Century. Where he does stop and comment it is usually to poke an eye in a holy cow. Claudius is repeatedly described as "an idiot". Augustus is an implacable dictator. Caligula and Nero are passed over relatively quickly, although Gibbon does ask what Rome had done to deserve the run of emperors from Augustus through to Domitian, until Trajan finally broke the run of bad luck. We then jump most of a century until the good Marcus Aurelius (only referred to as Marcus and treated with enormous affection by Gibbon, although his death, which historians believe was from plague during a campaign in the east - rather than the depiction of being murdered by Commodus - is not mentioned at all by Gibbon) is replaced by Commodus. The film Gladiator probably paints a fair picture of Commodus's character as seen by Gibbon, but Gibbon wades in with spiked gloves and totally fillets him. And then he gets to start on what followed...

Certainly there is food for thought. Gibbon acknowledges that Claudius was the last male descendent in his family and readers may speculate how someone as stupid as Claudius is made out to be by him could survive the terror of Caligula, the plotting and not only become emperor, but have a long and very peaceful reign, with no attempts to revolt by the legions and no palace coup.

Although Gibbon's style is much-commented to be acerbic, wry and humorous, I admit that I was surprised by how dry it is and by how much text he gets out of a short quote from a contemporary historian (all lovingly referenced). It is not something that most people will sit and read from cover to cover, particularly as the volumes do not end with the fall of Rome itself, but with the fall of the eastern empire in Constantinople, centuries later. More it is a set of six volumes to dip in and out of and to treat with reverence.

Moonbase 3 - The Complete Series [DVD] [1973]
Moonbase 3 - The Complete Series [DVD] [1973]
Dvd ~ Donald Houston

5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing job of predicting the future: very authentic, 22 Oct. 2015
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I recall watching this series as a youngster and enjoying it thoroughly. Now I work in an Agency that has just announced plans to establish a base similar to Moonbase 3 and have just re-lived the series and enjoyed it just as much, particularly the haunting, dramatic theme music.

My feeling now is the sames as it was 42 years ago: it is a pity that the series was just 6 episodes. It ended on a cliff-hanger, with the audience wondering what would happen next and we never found out. Maybe that is part of the magic of this series: it was brief, it was original (very different to Doctor Who, or Doomwatch) and it stopped before the ideas could get tired.

The disk is basic. No extras. No sub-titles even. Just the original picture quality (1973 BBC colour), presumably copied from tape. The picture quality is clearly no perfect, but it is good enough and adds an Apollo-era authenticity (appropriate, when the BBC Moonwalk coverage's linkman, James Burke, was the script consultant).

What makes it so authentic to me is that before the European Space Agency even existed (it was founded in 1975) we have a structure in the European Moonbase so similar to the ESA of today in its character, to name just a few examples, we have: a Welsh commander, his French deputy, a temperamental Italian astronaut, a Spanish scientist, a German inspector, and scientists from a host of European countries such as Sweden playing leading roles at some time or another and close collaboration with Russian and American commanders and their personnel... it is ESA 2015 in many senses and so authentic!

The stories are good, some of them are even very clever. The whole subject of the melting ice caps is treated in the final episode, although in a form that environmentalists from 2015 would not recognise, but equally catastrophic in its results. The story of ice at the Moon's poles anticipated the Lunar Prospector results by 20 years. With the script editor Terence Dicks having had a long association with what many regard as the golden age of Doctor Who, you expect good scripts.The scripts concentrate on the unforgiving nature of space and the danger of people under pressure making small errors that turn out to be catastrophic: it captures the essence of a modern space project and its pressures perfectly. Terence Dicks must be an Arthur C. Clarke fan because he manages to work in - very appropriately - one of the famous lines of Arthur C Clarke's short stories: "we must love each other, or die"! Very dramatic!

There are obvious limitations. You can't reproduce lunar gravity in a BBC studio, so the base has artificial gravity (a large sign is lit up to remind us that the artificial gravity is operational inside the base) but, in the exteriors, a combination of slow motion and, I assume, mime, to produce an authentic low-gravity lunar gait.The model exteriors, such as the Moon buggies look like the work of Matt Irvine (he is not credited, but it's his style). These are much less convincing, but we are talking about the BBC and modest budgets: they work well enough, although the lunar surface that is depicted is much more abrupt and irregular than the real thing.

So, I have to say that I did love this series and have enjoyed it again, 40 years later just as much as the first time that I saw it.

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: £9.00

4.0 out of 5 stars the image quality is not great at times, 16 Sept. 2015
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Released as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who, this set presents the first three Doctor Who stories that were ever broadcast, all miraculously complete.

Despite re-mastering, the image quality is not great at times, but that gives it more authenticity as it was how people would have seen these episodes on an old 405 lines, black and white TV. These three stories show your the original concept of the show, giving an idea of just how much it has changed over the years, although many things have not changed at all (people blundering into the TARDIS by accident and becoming companions, taking in the concept of travel in space and time with the same facility that most people down a beer or a cup of tea).

I was too young to remember any of these stories, but became hooked on Doctor Who soon after and, for me, this was a wonderful opportunity to see how the series began and how the character of the Doctor was developed. It also shows William Hartnell as he started the series, before serious illness impacted his ability to play the role: similar to Peter Capalldi in irascibility and impatience, but without being so bizarre and very much less alien.

Definitely it is an opportunity for Doctor Who fans to participate in a little history and think about how, from such modest beginnings, the series has survived now for more than 50 years.

Kingsman: The Secret Service [Blu-ray]
Kingsman: The Secret Service [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Colin Firth
Price: £8.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From a tough council estate to secret agent - a wonderful spy romp., 16 Sept. 2015
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This is an absolutely wonderful film. I really regret that I did not catch it in the cinema.

Do you ever wonder how James Bond got to be a secret agent? This film is a thinly-disguised attempt to show the training of a "00" agent, although the film takes pains to show that this is a private initiative completely removed from any government agency, Take a kid from a tough estate in London whose family have fallen on hard times since his father was killed and turn him into a brilliant gentleman secret agent capable to solving the problem of how to land safely when jumping out of an airplane with no parachute (sound familiar from 007?), capable of fighting off a fortress full of enemy agents while wearing a smart suit, saving the world without getting a hair out of place and then charming the heroine.

Like the Bond films that it claims not to be imitating, there is plenty of humour and a lot of strange props among the killing - you may never again look at an umbrella the same way!. The result is a very entertaining story.

Doctor Who - The Dalek Invasion Of Earth [DVD] [1964]
Doctor Who - The Dalek Invasion Of Earth [DVD] [1964]
Dvd ~ William Hartnell
Price: £5.81

4.0 out of 5 stars Low-budget, corny ... and compelling!, 16 Sept. 2015
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This is the original story on which the 2nd Doctor Who film with Peter Cushing was based. I had the disadvantage of having seen the film version first, as it is in colour and had a cast with various very well known British stars, most notably Bernard Cribbins (who finally got to fly in the TARDIS in the TV series 40 years later) and the utterly creepy Phillip Madoc (wonderfully nasty in the film) who lift the film considerably. Once you have seen the film version this one becomes interesting mainly for the differences with the film,version which are many (mainly, one suspects, due to the very limited budget for the original series), although the plot is essentially untouched.

The basic premise is that the Daleks are now no longer confined to their planet, have improved capabilities (no longer are they only able to move on metal surfaces) and have it in for the human race (we never hear if that is a result of the earlier call on Skaro by the Doctor, but one suspects that the Daleks do not have a forgiving nature and have long memories). This allows the Daleks to take over London and generally be as obnoxious as only Daleks can be.

There are many echoes of the 1950s version of The War of the Worlds in this story. For the British public, used to Hollywood blockbusters, it was a chance to imagine alien monsters on the familiar streets of London, which was a large part of the popularity of the story. In reality though, it is not obvious whether it is the sets or the acting that are more plastic and cardboard (the Robomen are much more convincing in the film version). Even black and white and transfer from a low-resolution film version cannot hide the fact that many of the effects are low budget, yet it was amazing effective in flickering, low-resolution 405 lines on TV: so much so that a generation of kids would only watch it from behind the sofa, from which position your critical facilities were somewhat impaired..

When you compare the film and the original TV version, the film version is far superior, so much so that it is hard to remember just how revolutionary and how scary this story was when originally broadcast. Of the early William Hartnell stories recently re-released, this is undoubtedly the best, despite looking pretty corny these days! Definitely a piece of Doctor Who history.

Paddington Bear Large Classic with Boots and Suitcase
Paddington Bear Large Classic with Boots and Suitcase
Price: £24.61

5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone loved it. This was definitely a big hit, 16 Sept. 2015
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This was bought as a birthday present for a six year old boy, recently introduced to Paddington through the film.

It arrived rapidly and well-protected in clear cellophane inside the packet. First impression from the mother was to exclaim: "not too big! So soft! And it's wearing real boots!" (i.e. absolutely delighted) Paddington was an absolute hit with the birthday boy and with all his family. Everyone loved it.

This was definitely a big hit, a star birthday present and has a place of honour on the above the bed shelf when not taken to bed by the happy recipient.

Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter
Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter
by Russell T. Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.58

3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating for Whovians, but a little disappointing at the same time, 3 July 2015
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I found this book fascinating, but also rather disappointing.

It was fascinating to see how some of the ideas came about and also to see how things that never quite made it into the shows in question were re-cycled and later re-appeared elsewhere (e.g. in Torchwood). There are also plenty of "so that's what it means' moments, such as the explanations about the Doctor's mother lending him a helping hand in time that only the greatest of Who addicts would have followed at the time that the show was broadcast. Certainly, it helps to understand the workings of Russell T. Davies's mind.

It is also a somewhat disconcerting book in many ways. A feature of the book is the chronicle of missed deadlines and doing things in a rush at the last minute (and often well after), but you have hundreds of pages of e-mails, many quite trivial, that must have taken hundreds of hours to write, often late at night, when you would have thought that the time would be better devoted to actually getting those scripts finished! In fact, a large part of the book seems to be devoted to finding ways to explain why he has not been doing what he should be doing. It is very much a demonstration of Parkinson's Law!

Anyone who writes seriously will know the feeling of writer's block, or the paralysis that can (and often does) accompany big writing projects, which means that you will move heaven and earth to find good excuses not to start to write. For some writers and RTD seems to be a prime example, it would appear that only the panic of knowing that a deadline is past and that filming schedules are being impacted is capable of putting fingers to keyboard and getting work started. Of course, when started, it comes out in a torrent.

Readers will look at how scripts are prepared and think to themselves that, given the last-minute panic, it's amazing that the quality is not affected. Certainly, the overwhelming impression is that things get done in great haste after months of inactivity. That is probably doing RTD a grave injustice as probably the greatest creative effort is in mentally putting the pieces together and that is a process that does not produce any actual written result, but does mean that when the writing starts it is just a matter of committing all your thoughts to paper.

Another thing that comes across powerfully is the impression that RTD was a control freak with the show. Even changes of a single word that appear in filming need a telephone call and explicit approval from him. Other writers are re-written unmercifully because they don't suit his style, but every RTD word in the final shooting script is sacred. It all comes across as slightly neurotic (even when discounting the constant references to how sexy certain male members of the cast are and his fantasies about them - something that a male Director would never get away with in print if he were talking about female members of the cast - these references become tiresome in the end).

For me though the biggest disappointment is the poor print quality. The text is small, but readable, but the reproduction of the monochrome photographs is very disappointing indeed.

However you take this book, it is a fascinating insight into the world of Doctor Who's revival and the handover to a completely new writing and production team.

Five Rounds Rapid!: Autobiography of Nicholas Courtney - Doctor Who's Brigadier
Five Rounds Rapid!: Autobiography of Nicholas Courtney - Doctor Who's Brigadier
by Nicholas Courtney
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful photographic collection of the history of Who, 3 July 2015
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Having read the very mixed reviews I was quite doubtful about the book but have been utterly delighted with it. It's mainly a photo album and very heavily weighted to the actor's Dr Who years. Dozens of delightful photos with explanatory text. For Dr Who fans it is a window to what was going on behind the scenes in the filming of the series. There are also though photos from childhood and from Nicholas Courtney's early career.

For many children who grew up with Dr Who in the '60s and early '70s, the years of the Doctor and UNIT were the golden age of the show. The effects were ropey, many of the plots corny, but the imagination, top class and the Brigadier became the great favourite of the team, possibly more than even some of the Doctor's companions. The affection for UNIT and the exploits of the Brigadier are one of the reasons why UNIT has been brought back.

The book is heavily weighted to the years when the Brigadier was a cast regular, but does not forget the later Doctors after Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee and, of course, Sarah Jane.

If you are a fan of the Brigadier - and it's hard not to be - you will love this book.

Doctor Who - City of Death [1979] [DVD] [2005]
Doctor Who - City of Death [1979] [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Tom Baker
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat over-rated and badly in need of restoration and re-release, 17 Mar. 2015
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This was reputed to be one of the very best Doctor Who episodes of the early epochs. It's fun, but it is creaking a bit now. The Doctor and Romana unleashed in Paris (from the looks on the face of the public in the exteriors, France was not quite ready for Tom Baker and Lala Ward dashing madly around their streets). The exteriors are badly in need of restoration: presumably this is copied from an original on film that has deteriorated badly such that the film quality is not very good at all and that does detract a bit from the enjoyment.

That said, there are the standard Tom Baker bizarre conversations and strange situations. There are some "special effects" that would have looked ropey on an old 625 lines black and white TV and now just look laughable on a modern high-definition set, but then that is part of the charm of 1970s Doctor Who! There are time shifts and time loops and lots of good elements. And there is Tom Baker who was just so perfect as the Doctor. This is far from the best of the Tom Baker stories, but it is still fun and worth watching.

Doctor Who - Last Christmas [Blu-ray]
Doctor Who - Last Christmas [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Peter Capaldi
Offered by Magic Movies Ltd
Price: £6.72

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is the best Dr Who Christmas special in years, 17 Mar. 2015
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I found this episode great fun. It has wheels within wheels within wheels and really needs to be watched at least twice to start working out the intricacies of the plot.

We start with something that is just plain wrong (and the Producer will have known it). The base looked remarkably like the South Pole, but is called North Pole Base. Of course, the North Pole has no solid land within 10 degrees of it (unlike the South Pole) and is simply a loose mass of drifting ice floating on some very deep ocean. There is nowhere to anchor buildings. Nowhere to give the solid pillar foundation for a telescope. Nowhere to find ice caves under the base. In fact, with the drifting currents, the base might well end up near the Equator after a few years. However, it is all a dream, so it probably isn't real anyway.

When you have Father Christmas arguing plausibly that he is real. A technician who for unexplained reasons has to dance to the music of Slade through a dormitory full of monsters (maybe it had the only bathroom on the base and, when you have to go...?) and all manner of bizarre elements mixed with a still not quite returned to the real universe Doctor, expect the unexpected and have some fun along the way! There are some great lines and some lovely situations. Danny Pink is back and that makes you think that a sneaky script-writer may yet find some plausible way of keeping him in the series

I have to say that I really enjoyed this Christmas special. It has been the best for several years.

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