January 11th, 2010


Gibbon Chapter XVI

  • A run through the historical record, staring with Tacitus on Nero's blaming the Christians for the Great Fire, then Pliny on his administrative problems in Bithynia, then a long section on Cyprian (who I think gets more coverage than any other non-emperor); then a period of relaxation, which however is abruptly reversed by Diocletian (though that period of persecution seems to be more effective in the East). A rather more detailed but slightly less interesting chapter than the previous one, and I wonder if he might have been better to organise the material more chronologically across the two.

    (tags: gibbon)


2010 Films 1: Dr. Who and the Daleks

I resolved last year that I would keep better track of the films I watch this year. I have been lying in bed finding it difficult to concentrate today, and this was just about the right level of intellectual engagement to start off this particular resolution.

As a Doctor Who fan, it is impossible not to judge this film in comparison with the original seven-part Dalek story, so I won't really try. The positives: it is in colour, which is a huge difference. It looks better (except, oddly enough, the interior of Dr. Who's Tardis, which just looks like a film set with some machines dotted around it). The plot is tighter - it's difficult (with one exception, which I'll get to) to remember what has been cut from the original story to produce a film half its length, and some of the best bits are still there. The music is decent - not as unearthly as in the TV version, but not offensive either.

The huge difference, however, is in the performances and portrayals. Peter Cushing plays elderly slightly comical scientist Dr. Who, who keeps a time machine called 'Tardis' in his back garden, shaped like a police box for some reason. He doesn't have the grumpy gravitas of William Hartnell, but I detect some homage to his portrayal in the approach taken by Silvester McCoy. Roberta Tovey as his nine-year-old granddaughter Susie is actually rather good, and recasts Carole Anne Ford with perhaps a bit more grit.

When I first saw this on a Saturday morning repeat aged about 11, the surprise was that Ian is played by Roy Castle, who of course I knew as the presenter of the BBC children's programme Record Breakers. This was actually his second film role - he had also appeared with Peter Cushing in another Max Subotsky film with a doctor in the title (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors) earlier in 1965. Castle's Ian starts as a clown but more or less settles into the heroic sidekick to Cushing's Who by the end, probably the closest of the four main characters to the TV version (though William Russell's Ian is much brainer).

The most serious cut in the film as compared to the TV original is Barbara, Dr. Who's other grand-daughter, played by Jennie Linden. She gets almost nothing to do, except that her over-vigorous embrace of Ian sets Tardis going in the first place. (And even that is portrayed as Ian's clumsiness.) She is practically background scenery, especially when compared to Jacqueline Hill's history teacher.

Well, unless I start feeling better, I shall watch the other Cushing film later on.

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman

When Arlene Foster resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party and joined the DUP, I reckoned that it was. probably a good career move on her part. But I must say I didn't imagine (and I am sure that she didn't imagine) that it would lead to her becoming acting First Minister of Northern Ireland a little more than six years later. And frankly I think it is likely she will stay in place; it's not easy to see Peter Robinson coming back in six weeks' time.

Ten years ago, who would ever have thought that the first woman to lead a devolved government in the UK would be from the party of Ian Paisley?

PS: Much the best blogosphere coverage of the Robinson and Adams stories is on Slugger O'Toole.

Great minds think alike

I see that Dan O'Brien of the Irish Times and the Economist Intelligence Unit has come around to my point of view on requiring government ministers to be members of parliament, though he is wrong about the electoral system. (Though right about referendums, and, for all I know, about judges too.)

Hat-tip to Ian, whose second post I await eagerly.

2010 Films 2: Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150AD

Well, I am feeling a little better now, but it didn't prevent me watching the second of the two Doctor Who films starring Peter Cushing. It is much inferior both to the original six-part TV Dalek Invasion of Earth and to its own predecessor which I reviewed earlier. Somehow where the TV series succeeded in making the sets appear a realistic future occupied England, the big screen fails to do so; the sequences around the mines are particularly striking, where the original show achieved five times the effect for perhaps a tenth of the money. The music is often terrible, though of course the TV version had some of the best incidental music ever to feature in Who. Peter Cushing and Roberta Tovey, returning from the previous film, are much less effective; the more striking performances are Jill Curzon as Dr. Who's niece Louise, Philip Madoc as a short-lived black marketeer, Andrew Keir as a Scottish freedom fighter, and particularly Bernard Cribbins as Tom Campbell, a 1960s policeman who accidentally enters Tardis thinking it is a police box and gets swept forward to 2150.

I have some suggestions as to why this film manifestly fails where its predecessor did not, and where the TV story succeeded. First off, the TV series has an ensemble of regular characters with established relationships; the film loses time and momentum setting that up (and also has no particularly good reason for it). Second, the switching round of the narrative strands fails to work in the film's favour. Here, Tom and Louise, rather than Ian and a local, head up to Derbyshire in the Dalek saucer; and Dr. Who and granddaughter Susie travel by land separately rather than together. (Susie follows roughly the route of Barbara on TV, accompanied by Weir's Scottish resistance fighter.) Opportunities are missed to generate much spark between Tom and Louise, let along their terrestrially travelling friends. Of the good scenes from the TV story, only Dortmun's last stand and the treacherous women in the woods survive, and are done less well. (The women are played by Eileen Way and Sheila Steafel.) Finally, the geology of the Daleks' plan actually - and this is difficult to believe - makes less sense than the original TV version.

Anyway, this is really for completists only.

(I have a memory of seeing a version where Roberta Tovey's character is locked out of the Tardis at the end à la Carole Ann Ford's departure, but I guess I must have dreamed it.)