February 20th, 2021


Whoniversaries 20 February

i) births and deaths

20 February 1913: birth of Rex Tucker, who is credited formally as director of The Gunfighters (1966) but also played an important role in the genesis of the show in 1963.

20 February 1954: birth of Anthony Stewart Head, who played Mr Finch/Brother Lazar in School Reunion (Tenth Doctor, 2006), Grayvorn in the 2002 Big Finish Excelis audio plays, and voiced characters in Death Comes to Time (Seventh Doctor webcast, 2001-02) and The Infinite Quest (Tenth Doctor animated, 2007) as well as doing voiceovers for many Doctor Who Confidentials. (Also Giles in Buffy, not that you needed reminding.)

20 February 1990: birth of Anjili Mohindra, who played Rani in the Sarah Jane Adventures (2008-11) and the Queen of the Skithra in Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror (Thirteenth Doctor, 2020).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

20 February 1965: broadcast of "The Zarbi", second episode of the story we now call The Web Planet. Barbara is captured first by the Menoptera and then by the Zarbi; the Zarbi get the Doctor and Ian too.

20 February 1971: broadcast of fourth episode of The Mind of Evil. The Master and his criminal helpers steal the Thunderbolt missile; meanwhile the alien inside the Keller machine is getting hungry...

20 February 2008: broadcast of Dead Man Walking (Torchwood), the one where Owen comes back to life.

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the books

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (there is no punctuation in the official title) won the 1988 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation. Second place went to Beetlejuice and third to Big; I have seen both but would rank the winner ahead of them. Fourth place went to Willow and fifth to Alien Nation; I have seen neither. IMDB users give Who Framed Roger Rabbit a respectable 8th place on both rankings; but Big and Beetlejuice (and Willow on one system but not the other) are ranked ahead of it.

There's a couple of Oscar/Hugo crossovers, and even one with Doctor Who. Christopher Lloyd is Judge Doom here, having previously been Doc in Back to the Future three years ago and Taber in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Joanna Cassidy, Dolores here, was Zhora, the android with the snake, in Blade Runner.

This was Stubby Kaye's last featured role, as Marvin Acme, victim of the first murder. The previous year he was agent Weissmuller in the Doctor Who story Delta and the Bannermen.

Alan Tilvern, here R.K. Maroon, was rather less visibly one of the controllers in Superman.

Richard Le Parmentier, Lieutenant Santino here, was the higher ranked Admiral Motti in the first Star Wars film.
Betsy Brantley did the moves for Jessica Rabbit, and was the little boy's mother in The Princess Bride last year; Mike Edmonds is Stretch here and had, er, small parts in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi; and finally Paul Springer is Raoul here and had an uncredited part in Return of the Jedi.

It should also be added that the film features a lot of classic voice actors returning to their original roles, notably Mel Blanc as Bugs Bunny and many others, and Mae Questel as Betty Boop, a role she had last performed almost fifty years earlier.

As usual, our old friends race and gender are not well served here. I saw one black actor, in a non-speaking role, Lindsay Holiday (who now lives in France and makes a living as a musician).
And it's impossible to look at the Toons - a visible minority with a vibrant musical culture, whose labour is essential to the industry, but who are subject to continual harassment, sexual exploitation and extrajudicial killing (Roger and Jessica are literally strung up by the villain) - without detecting a rather cack-handed resonance.

As for gender, well, Jessica Rabbit isn't bad, just drawn that way. (What way? Unpack that...) The animators deliberately made her breasts move in the opposite direction to real breasts - ie they bounce up when in real life they would bounce down.

What makes the film High Art is the quality of the animation. It is difficult for us now to comprehend that the Toons were hand drawn onto every single frame, in those days before CGI. We were racking our brains watching it to think of notable earlier examples - Bedknob and Broomstick and Fantasia both have live action mixed with animation, but neither for as long as this. Apparently animators still use the phrase "swinging the lamp" to describe scenes that took that crazy bit of extra effort for effects that most viewers won't even notice.

I squirmed with sympathy for Roger and Jessica, tied together and threatened with death by Dip, and I’m sure you did too.

Also a shout out to the actors, especially Bob Hoskins, reacting to empty space or place-holders of some kind, and doing it really well. (I once was Macbeth in a class production of the feast scene, and we played it both with and without a visible Banquo’s Ghost. It was much easier to get into it staring into the eyes of a spectral Banquo than reacting to an empty space.)

So, all in all, I’m putting it just above the halfway point in my ranking, ahead of Bambi but behind Soylent Green.

The film is based on a novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, by Gary K. Wolf. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:
I picked up my pace, turned a corner, and ducked into a doorway.
There are broad plot similarities, but big differences: the book is set in the present day (ie 1981); the Toons are from comic strips rather than animated films; their speech is preserved in physical speech bubbles; the plot turns on a deus ex machina and the ability of Toons to create short-lived doppelgangers of themselves, and is generally less tidy than the film. One of those cases where the cinematic adaptation is a lot better than the original material.

I also got hold of the novelisation of the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, by Martin Noble, based on the screenplay by Jeffrey Price & Peter Seaman. Noble wrote several other 1980s novelisations, for the Kenny Everett film Bloodbath at the House of Death, the TV shows Automan, Private Schulz, Cover Up, and the Danny de Vito fims Ruthless People and Tin Men. He is still open for business. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:
‘Hmmph!’ she remarked and waddled past me.
Again, in the days before VCRs, the novelisation was the only way to re-experience the film, and this is a competent job, neither adding much to or subtracting much from the script.

The next Hugo-winning film was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but I’ve already watched that. (I might do Back to the Future 2, which lost that year.) So, in due course, on to Edward Scissorhands.

340 days of plague: spring on its way

I'm going to try and keep up a 10-day report here, even though there seems little enough to report. The numbers in Belgium are still not falling, and there has been no firm news about vaccines, though a strong hint that our girls should get theirs very soon.

This year's Worldcon had another kerfuffle, ending with the rescinding of the invitation of one of the Guests of Honour; apparently the first time this has ever happened. We live in unprecedented times.

As I had hoped, I got my haircut today at the usual hairdresser, who reopened last week.

After a recommendation from Maureen KS, I got a copy of Mridula Baljekar's Best Ever Indian Cookbook and successfully tried the chicken dopiaza recipe this evening. I’ll do more of those.

Yesterday I did what I had been thinking of for ages and went into Brussels to meet several diplomatic contacts for a series of walking conversations. In fact two of them cancelled at the last moment, but that still left me three meetings (one EU member state, one Western Balkan, one Middle Eastern). You can cover a lot of ground in the Parc Léopod in good weather, especially if you take in a coffee in Place Jourdan as well. My tracking app still seems to turn off sometimes, making it look as if I have teleported from place to place.

I’m taking Monday off for more megalithic tourism. There’s not a lot of it in Belgium, so I reckon I can cover it all this spring.

But this is getting to us all, I think. We’re now more than four months into the current lockdown, and little sign of it lifting any time soon. It gets to you.