Three films from the Play For Today series to be released by Simply Media on the 1st of October 2018

Simply Media will be releasing Our Day Out, The Imitation Game and The Fishing Party on the 1st of October 2018. Below are details on all three, taken from Simply’s press release.

Our Day Out

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An anarchic, bittersweet comedy drama from Oscar-nominee Willy Russell, creator of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine. Rated 8.2 on IMDB. Directed by BAFTA-winner Pedr James (Our Friends in the North) and produced by David Rose (Z Cars).

A hilarious and chaotic romp about a group of inner-city Liverpool schoolchildren let off the leash for a day’s outing. Different teaching approaches clash when the compassionate Mrs Kay (Jean Heywood – Billy Elliot) and disciplinarian Mr Briggs (Alun Armstrong – Krull) attempt to supervise.

Stopping at a cafe, a zoo, the beach and a funfair, the children take every opportunity to cause havoc. This tender comedy draws on Willy Russell’s own experiences of school trips as both pupil and teacher.

Originally broadcast in 1977, it was later adapted as a stage musical and still features today as a popular school text.

What the Press Said:

“I laughed out loud a great deal, and secretly wept a little.” The Sunday Times

“A gloriously funny and touching play.” Guardian

The Imitation Game

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Bestselling writer Ian McEwan (The Children Act) wrote this impassioned drama, inspired by stories of women who helped to crack the Enigma Code during WWII.

Rated 7.8 on IMDB and first shown in 1980. Directed and produced by BAFTA-nominee Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal).

Starring Harriet Walter (Sense and Sensibility / The Sense of an Ending) in her first major screen role alongside Oscar-nominee Brenda Blethyn (Vera) and BAFTA-nominee Patricia Routledge (Keeping Up Appearances).

19-year-old Cathy Raine (Harriet Walter) lives in 1940’s Frinton on Sea, expected to spend the war working at the local munitions factory. Against the wishes of her family she signs up for the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

There she befriends working-class Mary (Brenda Blethyn) and moves to the code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park where Cathy meets Turing-like mathematics don John Turner (Nicholas Le Provost). But Cathy is being kept in the dark by the secretive male hierarchy – until she stumbles upon a secret intelligence file that may jeopardise her safety.

What the Press Said:

“A Play for Today of rare distinction” Clive James

The Fishing Party

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Crown Court creator Peter Terson’s comedy of class and manners. Rated 8.9 on IMDB, and first shown in 1972. Directed by BAFTA-winner Michael Simpson (Prince Regent).

Derbyshire miners Art (Brian Glover), Ern (Ray Mort) and Abe (Douglas Livingstone) head north to Whitby for a boys-only fishing escape.

Checking into a shabby B&B run by haughty landlady Audrey (Jane Freeman – Last of the Summer Wine) and her henpecked hubby, the trio are bamboozled into paying a high price for their rooms.

Their boat is piloted by a stern ex-fisherman, who warns them about mixing chips and brown ale on choppy waters. The boys are half-cut before they leave the harbour, and as they head out to sea they’re decidedly off-colour.

What the Press Said:

“A joyous comedy… overflowing with brilliant observation and wonderfully circular dialogue.” TV Cream

All three DVDs have a RRP of £12.99, Our Day Out runs for seventy minutes, The Imitation Game for ninety two minutes and The Fishing Party for fifty seven minutes.

TV Comic – The First Doctor. The Hijackers of Thrax

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A cargo ship, en route to Venus from Earth mysteriously vanishes. It’s not the first time one of these ships has gone missing, which spells trouble for those anxiously watching back on Earth. “Another supply ship lost! If we don’t get to the bottom of this mystery soon our colony on Venus will be starved out!”

Who can be responsible? It’s a space pirate called Captain Thrax, that’s who. And make no mistake he really is a pirate – complete with a striped jumper, eye patch and a nice line in pirate talk. Frankly all he’s missing is a parrot and a peg leg.

You could never say that scientific accuracy was one of TV Comic‘s priorities, something which is clearly demonstrated by the cunning way that Thrax remains undetected from Earth observation. His space station is covered by a cloud. A cloud in space, how exactly does that work? Never mind, let’s press on.

The Doctor, John and Gillian, having landed on the space station, find themselves prisoners – locked up along with the crews from the captured spaceships. Luckily the ever-resourceful John has an escape plan – he takes a bar of soap (don’t ask) and puts it on the floor. When the guard comes in, the inevitable happens.

If you get the sense that this adventure has been a little strange up until now, the best is saved for the final instalment. Cornered by Thrax’s guards, the only weapon that the Doctor and the others have to hand is the stolen food. This leads the Doctor to utter one of my favourite TV Comic lines. “Use the vegetables! We’ve nothing else to defend ourselves with!” Sheer brilliance.

And the vegetables come in very handy, as not only are they used to beat off the guards but Doctor Who (as ever, very keen to incite others to violence) tells John and Gillian to throw the spuds at Thrax’s mist-making machinery. Once that’s put out of action, Thrax’s goose is really cooked.

The Hijackers of Thrax is a fairly short story, which is something that works in its favour (ten weeks of potato-based action might have been too much, even for me). It’s another tale that bears only scant resemblance to TV Who, but no fear as the next strip promises something closer to canonical action (“DR WHO meets the ZARBI on the Web Planet”).

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TV Comic – The First Doctor. The Therovian Quest

We can file the first few instalments of this strip under “blatant padding”. Doctor Who, Gillian and John crash-land on a rather inhospitable, moon-like planet. Like the moon it has hardly any gravity, although it must have oxygen otherwise the time-travellers (who aren’t wearing spacesuits) would have expired the minute they set foot outside.

I don’t think we need to get too worked up about scientific accuracy though, as shortly afterwards they are all menaced by a large dinosaur-like creature. Given how bleak the planet looks I’m not entirely sure what it feeds on (passing space-travellers maybe?). There’s a temporary respite from this silliness when the Doctor and the others take shelter in a nearby space-ship. The alien inhabitant doesn’t seem friendly though. “Don’t move or I’ll blast you to atoms!”

But things take an unexpected turn after the alien, called Grig, is revealed to be a good chap after all. After the single-minded villainy of The Klepton Parasites, it’s nice to have a story where an apparently threatening alien turns out to be benign. Grig tells them his story and it’s a very strange one.

All the people on his planet, Theros, have been gripped by a strange weakness, meaning that they loll about all day long with no desire to do anything. For some reason he’s the only one not affected so he’s set off in his rocket ship to look for help. Yes, this is a little odd but after several panels of the Doctor being menaced by a whacking great dinosaur it seems less so. Touched by Grig’s story, they all return to Theros to see if they can help.

If this was the television show then you know what would happen next – the Doctor would fiddle with some test tubes and find a cure. Alas, the comic strip Doctor lacks the skills of his television counterpart and is stumped. But don’t panic! The Doctor may be no use but the oldest living Therosian, Wodan, suddenly pipes up to let them know that there is a cure – a rare moss from Ixon, the planet of ice. Now if only he’d thought to let Grig know this before he set out the first time (and the Doctor had travelled straight to Theros) we’d have been spared all that nonsense with the dinosaur …

After being introduced to Grig, a menacing alien who turns out not to be menacing after all, there’s another reversal after the Ixons are revealed as baddies (they’d initially seemed reasonable enough). But no matter, after Doctor Who, John, Gillian and Grig have braved the ice caves they’re not going to let a few Ixons stand in their way. Doctor Who has a handy box of matches (maybe he didn’t kick the smoking habit like his tv counterpart?) which enables him to create a heavy smokescreen to aid their escape.

Barking mad best sums this story up. The interlude with the dinosaur, a planet of lethargic aliens, the hunt for the magic moss, it just keeps on springing surprises. But compared to some later TV Comic strips I guess this is quite sensible fare.

TV Comic – The First Doctor. The Klepton Parasites

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Just under a year after An Unearthly Child aired on British television, the Doctor made his debut as a comic strip character in the pages of TV Comic. These early strips are fascinating for a number of reasons.  They may be simplistic but they also have a certain charm, although there’s no denying that they bear only a passing resemblance to TV Who.

Yes, there’s a white-haired man called the Doctor who flies a spaceship disguised as a police-box through time and space,  but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends, at least in this story.  The strip Doctor is a gung-ho fellow, happy to shoot first (or more accurately get others to do the shooting for him) and ask questions later.

Although this first story runs over twenty pages there’s an economy to the storytelling that’s evident right from the first panel.  A number of flying machines, piloted by the evil Kleptons, are swooping over the city of the hapless, humanoid Thains.  The Kleptons make their intentions plain straight away.  “We are the Kleptons! We will take over your cities and your land! You Thains will be our slaves!”  Clearly the Kleptons believe in getting to the heart of the matter with the minimum amount of waffle.  After such a comprehensive mission statement it does render the Thains’ cries of “Who are they? Where have they come from? What are they going to do?” rather redundant.

It’s a black and white strip and we’re in a black and white world.  The Kleptons are evil and the Thains are good – it’s as simple as that.  So there’s no point in attempting to reason with the Kleptons, the only thing that will stop them is a force of arms.  To be fair, the television Doctor has often followed a similar route, so we can’t be too critical about this.

As for the Doctor, when the story begins he’s on Earth and inside the TARDIS.  He’s surprised to be visited by his grandchildren John and Gillian, whom he’s obviously never met before.  And he’s even more surprised when John pushes precisely the wrong button which sends them off into time and space.  It’s like the first twenty five minutes of the television serial compressed into seven panels of art.

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The fun really starts when the TARDIS drops them right in the middle of the fight between the Kleptons and the Thains.  The Doctor is quick to decide that force is the only answer and to this end the peaceful Thains take the only weapons they have (stored in a museum) and ready them for the upcoming struggle.  When writing The Dominators did “Norman Ashby” use this strip as an inspiration?

Although the Doctor’s a strong advocate of force, the strip is still careful not to show him actually firing a gun, so he gives that job to his young grandson.  Hmmm.  But the Doctor is on hand to offer these sage words of support.  “Open fire! Blast those Kleptons out of the sky!”

Neville Main’s art may be rather functional, but at times (such as when the Doctor, John and Gillian travel to the city of the Kleptons in one of their stolen machines) it’s really rather good.  Things don’t go well for the Doctor and his two young grandchildren though as they’re captured by the evil Kleptons and the Doctor passes on more wise words of advice.  “Don’t try anything. These ugly customers are just itching to let fly with their guns!”

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They manage to escape from the cell they’ve been locked in, thanks to John suddenly realising he’s carrying a heat gun provided by the Thains (lucky that).  Once out of the cell, John chucks it over to the Doctor, telling him to open fire, but once again the Doctor isn’t seen to fire a weapon, he simply knocks the Klepton out with it!  John punches another Klepton (“sweet dreams”) whilst Gillian no doubt cowers somewhere off-panel.

Events then take an inevitable turn as a really large explosion puts paid to the Kleptons and the time-travellers prepare to bid farewell to the Thains.  As with the television series, the Doctor makes an attempt to return his companions to the twentieth century but I’ve a feeling he’s going to have a similar lack of success.  John seems happy enough though.  “I don’t care what century we arrive in. I’m sure we’ll have loads of adventures anyway!”

It’s a crude and simplistic story, but I can’t find it in my heart to dislike The Klepton Parasites.  But I hope that some of the upcoming stories will have a little more depth to them.  We shall see ….

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Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series Two, Episodes Eleven to Thirteen

Gambit

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Gambit‘s an odd one. The main plot – the hunt for Docholli – moves very slowly whilst the production design is somewhat on the tacky side. But since Robert Holmes’ script is packed with entertaining one-liners this isn’t really a problem.

If you like your B7 stories on the gritty side, then you’re out of luck. Aubrey Woods’ overpowering Krantor sets the tone. Woods is clearly having a great deal of fun – the banter between Krantor and Servalan being one of the episode highlights.

Blake, Jenna and Cally (the two girls glammed up to the nines) are involved in the main plot, but it’s Avon and Vila (attempting to break the bank at the casino) who get all the best scenes. The Avon/Vila subplot is so played for laughs that it feels more like a parody than proper B7 – the notion of Avon sneaking down to Freedom City (is he afraid of getting a ticking off from Blake?) and the way he persuades Orac to shrink himself (how handy and how odd it was never done again) are just two examples of this.

Oh, and the moment when he spits out his food after learning that Vila’s been tricked into playing the Klute at speed chess ….

With Holmes scripting, it’s possibly not surprising that the dialogue is a little different from the norm (Avon’s comment of “you dummy” doesn’t feel like something he would ever say).

There are also some prime examples of Holmes’ colourful command of the English language. Servalan’s thoughts on Krantor for one. “He is a despicable animal. When the Federation finally cleans out this cesspit, I shall have that vulpine degenerate eviscerated with a small and very blunt knife”.

Krantor’s counter-comments are equally as eye-opening (“one of these days, Toise, I am going to have Supreme Commander high-and-mighty Servalan ravaged until she does not know what month she’s in. I’ll have her screaming for death …”).

With an unforgettable turn from Sylvia Coleridge, an appearance from Bill Filer and Travis in a silly hat, Gambit is top class entertainment.

The Keeper

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If you’ve seen The Pirate Planet then you’ll know what to expect from Bruce Purchase’s Gola – except that the Captain had hidden depths, whilst there’s no such luck with Gola (who’s just all bluster). The Keeper is another example of Blake’s shaky leadership qualities – no sooner has he, Vila and Jenna teleported down to the surface of Goth than they’re overpowered with embarrassing ease.

Vila (obviously) becomes the King’s new fool whilst Jenna becomes the King’s new … well, you can probably guess. Sally Knyvette manages to mine a few comic moments from this fairly unpromising scenario. Meanwhile, Blake mooches about doing nothing much whilst Avon, aboard the Liberator, leaves the others on Goth to fend for themselves as he sets off to destroy Travis’ ship. One point, how did he know that the ship belonged to Travis?

If you like ripe overacting then you’ve come to the right place. In addition to Purchase there’s also Freda Jackson as Tara (she has a nice line in cackles). Servalan’s on/off relationship with Travis is now back on, since he’s once again at her side (Travis changing from being Servalan’s enemy to her ally multiple times since Trial has been decidedly odd). The way he cuts and runs some twenty minutes in does generate the episode’s only surprising moment though.

Fifty minutes of running on the spot, The Keeper ends up as something of an also-ran although with Derek Martinus onboard as director there’s some decent camerawork in evidence.

Star One

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Star One (rather like Terminal and Blake in fact) does indulge in a fair amount of running on the spot. Some of the scenes set on Star One (especially the hunt for Lurena) aren’t that interesting, but since the episode also features several of B7‘s most memorable moments the good outweighs the bad. Despite the fact that this is Blake’s last hurrah as a regular, Avon is still the one who gets all of the best lines. “As far as I am concerned you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions, you can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory, whatever that might mean”.

His face-off with Travis (“Now talk or scream, Travis, the choice is yours”) is also rather good.

But at least Blake does have that brief chat with Cally, where the pair discuss the ethics of destroying Star One. It’s a fascinating scene – not least for the fact that Cally (next to Blake the most fanatical) was the only one to voice a tentative concern that killing millions of people might possibly be a bad thing.

Some of Star One’s functions are discussed in the opening few minutes. They seem rather benign (climate control) rather than oppressive and domineering. And the way the episode begins with Servalan effectively cast in the role of the goodie (discussing how to bring Star One under control in order to prevent further deaths) before crossing over to the Liberator (where Blake and the others are plotting to destroy it in order to generate chaos) shows how far the lines between good and evil have become blurred.

Servalan’s surprisingly a fairly minor character in this one, but the moment when she instigates a palace revolution is chillingly played by Jaqueline Pearce. “The President and those members of the Council who are unable to accept the realities of the situation are even now being arrested, as are those of our own people whose loyalties may be divided. At a time like this complete unity is an absolute essential”. The inference is that under military rule the Federation will become an even more oppressive force, although the aftermath of Star One rather negates this.

Travis’ death is a mercy killing (both for the character and the audience). A shame the effects shot of him tumbling to his doom isn’t terribly effective though.

And that cliffhanger ….

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series Two, Episodes Eight to Ten

Hostage

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Oh dear, this isn’t very good is it? Plus points, we get a brief smidgen of Kevin Stoney whilst Servalan placed under a little pressure is always good to see.

Continuity isn’t a strong point of this story. Servalan reacts with amazement when Joban tells her that Blake’s become a hero amongst the rank and file of the Federation, which flatly contracts previous stories where Blake’s growing reputation was becoming a problem.

I don’t know if it was ever seriously considered, but the possibility of Travis teaming up with Blake would have been very interesting. Having Travis as a new crewmember aboard the Liberator opens up all sorts of possibilities (which would have been more satisfying than the increasingly odd way his character was used – Voice From The Past, anyone?).

The crimos are pretty rubbish, as are the polystyrene rocks, whilst Travis seems stupider than usual (does he really not know who is weakest out of Blake, Avon and Vila?).

So not good, but there’s a few good one-liners scattered about and – as ever – great interaction between the regulars, so it’s not completely unwatchable.

Countdown

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The main drawback with a story which has a ticking countdown throughout is that things only really get exciting during the last few seconds. And so it proves here – even though we know that Avon and Del will save the day just in the nick of time, there’s still some decent tension wrung out as the clock ticks down to zero.

As for the rest of the episode, the development of Avon’s character (especially the revelation about his love for Anna and his uneasy relationship with her brother) is clearly the main point of interest. Darrow and Chadbon spar very effectively and it’s a pity that Del was never seen again (although given what we learn about Anna in Rumours of Death that’s possibly not too surprising).

Elsewhere, the characterisation of the remainder of the guest cast is pretty sketchy. Provine is a nasty piece of work and that’s about it – his only function in the plot being to give Blake another clue to the location to Star One (which is done in a highly unconvincing way). The locals are all pretty forgettable as well but I’ll give a bonus point out for the fact that there’s a female amongst their number (I’ll then deduct a point for the fact she’s such a wet lettuce).

Once again the girls are stuck by the teleport whilst the boys go down to play. This is becoming rather monotonous. Since it was already known that Sally Knyvette wouldn’t be returning for S3 (indeed she wouldn’t have done S2 had her contract not forced her to) it almost looks like all the writers had given up any interest in developing her character.

I do like the way that the Federation troops (supposed to be the best of the best) spend the opening few minutes doing nothing except running away as fast as they can from the advancing rebels!

Decent enough, but never a favourite.

Voice From The Past

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It may be mad as a box of frogs, but it’s impossible not to love Voice From The Past. I like the notion that Cally has badgered the others into doing exercises although it doesn’t seem to be agreeing with Blake, who is having the funniest of all funny turns.

Gareth Thomas goes right over the top and then back up again during the first fifteen minutes or so. It’s great stuff, as are Paul Darrow’s karate chops when Avon attempts to subdue a hysterical Blake!

Given Blake’s often arbitrary command style, it’s surprising that the others twig quite quickly that he’s not himself. Avon, as so often, is gifted most of the best lines (“Well, he’s certainly not normal, not even for Blake”).

Jenna, looking especially lovely today, is persuaded to share Blake’s nightmares (so she too gets the chance to register high on the hysteria scale). But once that moment of fun is over, the plot starts to fall apart somewhat.

It’s barely credible that Avon would leave Vila in sole charge of Blake. Equally hard to believe is the fact that a gullible Vila swallows Blake’s story that Avon and Cally are the guilty ones. Also, why are Avon, Cally and Jenna all sitting in a room with a door that Blake can lock? A touch careless of them ….

All of this messing with Blake’s mind ultimately does feel like filler, since when the main plot kicks in – Blake is invited to join a cabal of notable Federation types who plan to bring down the current administration – it seems clear that Blake would have been happy to join them without any manipulation.

What can you say about Shivan? Words fail me ….

Servalan’s tussle with Governor Le Grand tops the episode off in style. Servalan on the big screen is some sight.

Something of a messy episode, but it’s also great fun.

Soupy Twists by Jem Roberts – Book Review

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If you’ve more than a passing interest in British comedy, then the name of Jem Roberts should be a familiar one. His three previous books – The Clue Bible, The True History of the Black Adder and The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams – are all proudly lined up on my shelves, and they’re now joined by his latest – Soupy Twists: The Full, Official Story of the Sophisticated Silliness of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

As the lengthy title indicates, this is no hastily knocked together unauthorised history. Although it draws upon previously published interviews (selected quotes from Stephen Fry’s volumes of autobiography are also effectively dropped in) there’s plenty of fresh insights as well. Although if you’re looking for scandal then you’ve come to the wrong place – the partnership between F&L has always been a very harmonious one (although the handful of cross words they’ve shared are discussed along the way).

Beginning their comedy marriage, along with a group of significant others such as Emma Thompson, during their undergraduate days at Cambridge, F&L seemed to effortlessly move into television during the eighties via Alfresco, Black Adder, Saturday Live and A Bit of Fry & Laurie. It wasn’t quite as smooth as that of course, so the odd misstep (The Crystal Cube) is also touched upon.

Alfresco (and its predecessor There’s Nothing To Worry About!) might be largely unloved today (indeed, they were largely unloved back then as well) but I’ve always had something of a soft spot for them, so there were some nice new nuggets of information in this section for me. For example, I never knew that Rik Mayall was nearly part of the troupe.

It’s no surprise that A Bit of Fry & Laurie takes up a fair chunk of the book. And quite right too. There’s some fascinating material here – sketch extracts which never made it to screen as well as tantalising titbits about more cut sketches, such as further Tony and Control meetings ….

Another notable cut from S2 of ABOF&L featured Rowan Atkinson (this was deemed not to be worthy of transmission – which makes me even more intrigued to see it). Whilst Fist of Fun was the gold standard of DVD releases (virtually everything which still existed from the studio tapes – save a few moments snipped for legal reasons – made it onto the bumper releases) sadly A Bit of Fry & Laurie was a depressingly bare-bones DVD release (no extra footage at all). It would be nice to think that a deluxe ABOF&L DVD set might appear one day (well we all have to have dreams).

Apart from Fry and Laurie themselves, a host of friends and collaborators pop up to offer their own insights. Some of these are quite sharp – such as Deborah Norton, who found working with Stephen during the first series of ABOF&L to be rather difficult (although when they met years later everything was much more harmonious).

Their post-partnership careers (following the broadcast of the fourth series of ABOF&L in 1995) are neatly summed up in the final chapter before we reach the rather appetising dessert – nearly one hundred pages of unseen extracts from the Fry & Laurie archive. There’s plenty of good stuff here, most of which could easily have turned up on television.

Covering all the bases, this is a detailed and entertaining read which I devoured in several sittings. Highly recommended.