Wednesday, 29 June 2011

THE ANNO DRACULA SAGA (The Many Worlds Of Kim Newman II)


One of the great delights of being a bibliophile is the discovery that a long out of print book is returning to the shelves. Another is the news that the next volume in a long running series is finally appearing. So then you can imagine my joy in discovering that at long last Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula saga is finally being reissued and furthermore the long awaited Johnny Alucard is going to hit the book stores. And fans of this remarkable series, as well as obsessive collectors of books, will doubtless also be thrilled that the new editions not only are being reissued in matching formats but contain new material too.

Now as long-time readers of my scribblings will know, I am a huge fan of Mr Newman’s works and I written before on how I consider him to be as a great unrecognised master of fantastic fiction, and the fact that his Anno Dracula saga has been out of print for so long is one of the great crimes of the publishing industry. Especially considering that in recent years the shelves have been veritably groaning with countless other vampiric series, none which take the undead to the literary heights of Mr Newman’s saga.

Grown from a short tale Red Reign in The Mammoth Book of Vampires (ed. Stephen Jones, 1991), Anno Dracula (first published in 1992) and its following tomes are a series of sequels to Stoker’s classic novel. Now there have been many such continuations of the Dracula’s adventures; most obviously the Universal and Hammer cycles, Marvel Comics’ Tomb of Dracula and even a follow-up from one of Stoker’s descendants (Dracula - The Un-dead by Dacre Stoker).

But all these countless sequels have the Count returning from the grave after his defeat as laid down by Stoker. Anno Dracula however takes a different and original tack. The books are an in-depth exploration of a deceptively simple question – what would have happened if Van Helsing and the rest of the fearless vampire hunters had failed at the climax of Dracula?

Now we all know that Dracula is part of the gothic tradition, but Stoker’s novel also belongs to a subgenre of ‘Britain invaded’ stories that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. And with this in mind, Newman takes Dracula’s reasons for moving to England to their logical conclusion: having defeated Van Helsing and his band of vampire slayers formed from Lucy Westenra’s ex-suitors, the Count turns his attention to bigger targets – vampirising Queen Victoria, becoming her consort and effectively taking control of the British Empire...


And in addition, as the ruler of the largest empire in the world is openly a member of the undead, all the other vampires have come out of hiding and a brave new world is established where vampires and ‘the warm’ jostle for positions in the new society. Hence Lord Ruthven, the Byronic monster from Polidori’s The Vampyre is now the Prime Minister, while Varney the Vampire from the noted penny dreadful A Feast of Blood is in charge of the Raj, and this novel abounds countless other fictional vamps; from the hopping horror of Mr Vampire to the eponymous Martin from Romero’s classic. Nearly every bloodsucker you can think of gets a mention at some point, although Counts Duckula and Chocula are understandably absent. And those who don't get a mention here, appear in later volumes.

Similarly the book teems with a multitude of historical personages and fictional characters; it’s a veritable who’s who of Victoriana. Hence in this alternate world, Scotland Yard may call on the services of both Fred Abberline, who headed the Jack the Ripper investigation in our history, and Inspector Lestrade, who Sherlock Holmes so frequently annoyed.

However it’s not all having fun with other peoples’ creations and the history books, as the novel actually centres on a trio of new characters. Firstly we have Kate Reed, a young reporter, who originally was a character in an early draft of Stoker’s Dracula but was cut from the final version. Then there is Genevieve Dieudonne, an elder vampire who has learnt that vampirism all too often shortens life rather bestowing immortality, and is consequently dismayed by the new regime and the fresh breed of undead it spawns. Finally we have Charles Beauregard, gentlemen adventurer in the employ of the mysterious Diogenes Club, a shadowy agency of the British government that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle alluded to in The Greek Interpreter.

This triumvirate are the lynchpins of the series and continue to occupy leading roles in the following instalments of the Anno Dracula saga (and Beauregard and Genevieve also reappear in several of Mr Newman’s other alternate continuums, such as the Diogenes Club series and the Jack Yeovil Warhammer books, which future articles in this series will tackle).

So while the myriad of references are great fun for the well-read reader, those who don’t possess an encyclopaedic knowledge have three excellent guides to this world, who present differing views of the great changes the reign of Dracula is bringing to Victorian England. For as well as exploring the fates of the lead characters from Stoker’s novel, we discover the radical restructuring of society that the emergence of the vampires brings. And this is nothing as simple as the usual undead dystopia where the undead are farming humans; Newman presents a far better thought out and more realistic scenario where vampirism is sending shockwaves through the political, legal and social structures of the day, in many respects having an effect not dissimilar to the new technologies that were driving the Empire’s expansion at the time.

But as well as setting up a vividly realised and immaculately imagined alternate world, there is a thumping great story at its heart. In this universe Saucy Jack has become Silver Knife, and his slayings of assorted vampire ladies of the night is not only plunging London in terror but escalating tensions between ordinary humanity (the warm) and the new social class, the undead...


It's a grand gothic adventure takes us from the opium dens of Limehouse, and the rookeries of the East End to the well mannered rooms of respectable gentlemen’s clubs and the corridors of power, with horror, thrills and intrigue a plenty along the way.

The new edition, aside from providing a chance for new readers to discover this wonderful saga and for old hands to replace their tattered copies, contains a pleasing amount of extras. There’s annotations, an afterword, alternate scenes, excerpts from an unmade screen adaptation, an article on the connections between Jack the Ripper and Dracula in fiction, and a related short story The Dead Travel Fast, all of which clocks in at an impressive hundred and nineteen extra pages!


1995 saw the first sequel appear, The Bloody Red Baron. However rather than taking the lazy route and just wheel out more Victorian vampirism, Mr Newman moves the time line forward to the First World War for the second instalment in the Anno Dracula series. And needless to say, it’s also jam-packed with assorted cameos from the fiction and history of the period, with Edgar Allan Poe taking a lead role in the proceedings.

However it is also a very fine novel about the Great War, which if anything is bloodier and more protracted with the involvement of vampires on both sides. The world built in the first tome is admirably expanded and again here vampirism can be seen a metaphor; for both the technological advances that changed the face of warfare and the ruthless inhumanity that directs such progress at any cost.

You can read the first chapter here


Taking its UK title from this forgotten European Sixties hit, the third volume Dracula Cha Cha Cha, aka The Judgement of Tears: Anno Dracula 1959 in the USA (1998) sees the action moving to Rome. And naturally in such as a setting, we have numerous references to Italian cinema; with nods to Fellini while the Crimson Executioner stalks the streets, and an appearance from the Mother of Tears which not only appeared before Argento’s but is far superior. But also this being the dawn of the Swinging ‘60s, there is a certain suave secret agent on Dracula’s case too…



Probably the most underrated of the series, it is perhaps the most intriguing as now the world of Anno Dracula continuum has come to terms with the existences of vampires. And just as at the close of the '50s in our own universe we saw society beginning to sweep away the long lingering effects of the Victorian Age, so too in this world where the warm and the undead now co-exist, there is a growing friction between the old and new as society is increasingly shaped fashion, fads and consumer luxuries rather than the turn of the century blueprints of our forebears. It’s a far more personally focused book in many respects, focusing on the lives of individuals and how changing times affect us all.  




The long awaited Johnny Alucard will see the Anno Dracula saga reaching the last years of the twentieth century and possibly may be the last book in the series, although I suspect this alternative world is simply too intriguing for Kim to let go of any time soon and a further volume detailing the early 21st century may well be on the cards.  A section of this forthcoming tome has already made it to print as Andy Warhol’s Dracula in 1999, but considering the length of time the novel has taken to reach us, this section may well appear in a radically different form in the final complete edition.

However in the meantime, you can read the following tales which may (or may not) turn up in the final text in various online libraries...


Overall, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. They are all cracking tales that also work on a multiple of levels; and the combination of literary depth and highly entertaining narratives mean that they repay numerous re-readings. Not only a must for any self respecting vampire fan but also for all who love intelligent fiction. 


PUBLICATION DETAILS

For all you collectors out there, here are the details of the various editions of the saga...

Anno Dracula
UK = Simon & Schuster 1992 (hardback), Pocket Books 1993 (paperback)
US = Carroll & Graf 1993 (hardback), Avon 1994 (paperback)
Resissued by Titan with additional material in 2011

The Bloody Red Baron
USA = Carroll & Graf 1995 (hardback), Avon 1997 (paperback)
UK = Simon & Schuster 1996 (hardback), Pocket Books 1997 (paperback)
To be reissued by Titan with additional materials in 2012

Dracula Cha Cha Cha aka The Judgement of Tears: Anno Dracula 1959
US = Carrol & Graf 1998 (hardback), Avon 1999 (paperback)
UK = Simon & Schuster 2000 (hardback), Pocket Books 2001 (paperback)
To be resissued by Titan with additional materials (date to be announced at time of writing)

Johnny Alucard
To be published by Titan (date to be announced at time of writing)

Andy Warhol’s Dracula
PS Publishing 1999 (hardback)
Reprinted in Binary 2 Millennium Books 2002 (paperback)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

THE TWILIGHT ZONE NETWORK - Elegy


In a special guest appearance, this week sees a bonus reading hitting the digital airwaves, as Mr Jim Moon reads Elegy by Charles Beaumont for The Twilight Zone Podcast.

If you;re a fan of Rod Serling's work and/or classic sci-fi, do head over to The Twilight Zone Network - as well as The Twilight Zone Podcast, there's also the excellent Night Gallery Podcast. Covering each and every episode one show at time, these podcasts are the definitive guide to these classic TV series.

Plus there's classic archive sci-fi shows from Dimension X, Suspense and Tales of Tomorrow!



Saturday, 25 June 2011

HYPNOBOBS 37 - The Natural History of the Batman Part 3


This week we return to the Bat Cave, for the third installment of Mr Jim Moon's epic exploration of Bat History. This time we're looking at the Silver Age and the 1960s Batman series...

The blog mentioned in this 'cast  can be found here Silver Age Comics
The podcast mentioned can be found here The Black Dog 
And you dig out your own links for naughty pictures of Julie Newmar...

Direct download - HYPNOBOBS 37 - The Natural History of the Batman Part 3

If you have any comments or feedback, send your missives to hypnogoria@gmail.com

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER



   HYPNOBOBS is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.


CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

B MOVIE HEROES - Vincent Price


Check out my contribution to B MOVIE HEROES over at THE DAY HOLLYWOOD STOOD STILL looking at the lives and times of the legendary Vincent Price and examining three career landmarks - The Fly, Masque of the Red Death and Witchfinder General. Klaatu, Barada, Cult Movies!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

HYPNOBOBS 36 - A Hornbook For Witches


With a raging throat infection rendering his usual golden tones into something akin to the croaking of the blasphemous fish-frogs of old Innsmouth town, Mr Jim Moon quaffs a magic potion and summons up a guest narrator to handle this week's show. And stone me, who should appear but the great man who is rapidly becoming the patron saint of HYPNOBOBS, Mr Vincent Price...

This audio grimoire contains the following delights...

01 How To See Ghosts by MARIA LEACH
02 A Hornbook for Witches by LEAH BODINE DRAKE
03 Witches on the Heath by LEAH BODINE DRAKE
04 Ballad of the Jabberwocky by LEAH BODINE DRAKE
05 All Saints Eve by LEAH BODINE DRAKE
06 Dreamland by EDGAR ALLAN POE
07 The Sands of Dee by CHALRES KINGSLEY
08 Thus I Refute Beezley by JOHN COLLIER
09 Don't by MARIA LEACH
10 The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall by JOHN KENDRICK BANGS

Tracks 2,3,4,5 are from A Hornbook for Witches by Leah Bodine Drake (Arkham House 1950).
Tracks 1, 9 are from The Thing at the Foot of the Bed and Other Scary Tales by Maria Leach (William Collins and World Publishing Co Inc. 1959).
And track 8 is from Fancies & Goodnight by John Collier, published by (Doubleday & Co. 1931).

Direct download - HYPNOBOBS 36 - A Hornbook For Witches

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER



   HYPNOBOBS is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.


CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS

Thursday, 16 June 2011

'TWIXT THE WARP AND THE WEFT


As we all know, the internet is an endless sea of distractions and entertainments. And if you can off the porn for more than ten minutes, you can find a myriad of sites delivering new music, new movies and new fictions. And while this is a wondrous state of affairs for the average surfer, the web also affords creators not only a platform for their works and a chance to reach an audience directly but it also offers intriguing possibilities for fresh new formats.

One such format is flash fiction – the art of small micro stories. Though generally too brief for the conventional old media to bother with which these days struggles to know what to do with conventional length short fiction, such bonsai tales are ideally suited for the web. And also in the realm of bite-sized literature is the phenomena of webisodes - although now we more associate them with content-as-trailer promotional material for TV and films, originally this format began as online serialised fiction (for more on this see here). And obviously these two new forms could work hand in hand together rather well…

…Which brings us rather neatly to ’Twixt The Warp And The Weft - a fantastical tale told in one hundred chapters, of one hundred words each, released over one hundred days. Here’s how it begins…
They found it years before, when their kids were young, buried at the bottom of the garden: a rusted chocolate fingers tin. Inside, wrapped carefully in a silk scarf: a lock of hair, two peacock feathers tied in a simple knot, a photograph of a holidaying couple, torn apart then reassembled with sticky tape, an old British pound note, a dried rose and a lottery ticket, “PLEASE HELP ME, I AM LOST” scrawled on the back.

Many years later, looking at honeymoon photos with their son, recognition flickered and a cold dread began to fill their stomachs.

Intriguing yes? Well, from Friday this week (17th June 2011) you can start to follow the unfolding of this remarkable tale at  Twixtthewarpandtheweft.blogspot.com, where as well as visiting every day for the next chapter, you can also subscribe by email and get the latest episodes in your inboxes.

And believe me, you really should! As your attorney, I strongly advise that you check out this wonderful story, for as it was penned by an very old friend of mine, Mr Gavin White, I had the pleasure and privilege of reading the complete text before it hits the interwebs, and this I confidently assure you of the high quality of  treasures to be found within. Trust me, the discovery of the box will lead to some very strange and delightful places...

Now obviously I'll be giving no spoilers here, for there are many surprises and twists and turns along the way. But aside from strenuously recommending you join the ride and discover them for yourselves, I can safely tell you the 'Twixt The Warp & The Weft is a truly magical piece of writing. 

Deftly woven with some fascinating imaginative concepts and sprinkled with a charming sense of humour, it's a fine example of the off-kilter fantasy that the British do so well but also colourfully cosmic, vividly building a whole new mythology as it goes. It's strange, intriguing, and thoroughly enchanting in every sense of the word. 

And although the structure may seem limiting, you will be surprised at the diverse different shapes one hundred words can take. For this isn't a single thousand word tale rudely chopped into hundredths, it was properly crafted as individually episodes. The story unfolds through eyes of several characters, so we receive differing views of what's going on as different chapters switch narrators. Now in terms of the writing, we have episodes written in distinct voices, each with their own individual styles, and this changing of the point of view gives the story great pace. And like all good serials, there is a plethora of cliff-hangers that will have you eager for the next instalment. 

So then, point your browser to ’Twixt The Warp And The Weft and prepared to be spellbound... 

And if you really enjoy this flash fiction serial, I am assured there are further tales of the Warp and Weft to come. To find out more keep an eye on Mr White's blog The Daft Manifesto where further nonsense appears. And you can also follow him on Twitter here.


Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Calm Down! It's Not The End of the World! DOCTOR WHO in 2012


Mark Twain once said 'a lie can travel round the world before the truth is still putting its shoes on', and indeed thanks to the internet that is truer than ever before. Just look at the howls of outrage echoing around the digital playground this very morning, with assorted geeks spewing a toxic mix of tears and bile over the 'news' that there won't be a series of Doctor Who in 2012...

...Note the punctuation there folks! This is 'news' not fact. Firstly  just last week the BBC announced that it was commissioning 14 new episodes and Matt Smith was contracted to appear in them. And as for today's revelations, the truth of the matter is as follows (quoted from The Doctor Who News Page) -
Speaking at the Church and Media Conference this afternoon, Cohen's comments were relayed via Twitter, with BBC Merseyside's Religious Editor Wayne Clarke reporting: "Danny Cohen says there won't be a full series of Doctor Who in 2012, but a special run for the anniversary in 2013". The BBC's Entertainment Correspondent Liza Mzimba confirmed the comments this evening, adding that other reported comments by Cohen on the decision being made to enable head writer Steven Moffat more time to write his other hit series Sherlock were light-hearted and not meant to be taken seriously.
Now the key phrase here is 'not returning for a full series'. No one is saying the show's on hiatus, or being cancelled. All we know for sure is that there are 14 more episodes on order and that we have no details on how many are going to air in 2012.  It's also important to note that Cohen is promising 'a special run' in 2013 which will see the show turning 50.

So before we flood the hospital emergency rooms with injuries caused by excessive knee-jerking, can everyone stop over reacting now?

Yes, I know it's galling to think we may be getting less Who next year, but honestly this isn't a replay of the McCoy years where the BBC sought to smother the show (see here for the full gory story) . Doctor Who is one of its flagship titles, with high audience appreciation scores, and regularly making the top twenty in the weekly ratings, and often the only non soap/reality tosh in the line up to boot. And those figures don not include the iPlayer figures which are extremely sizeable these days. And indeed these large numbers watching on catch-up that don't count towards the ratings score is very significant. 

As I have noted before, every year lazy hacks start running stories claiming the show is trouble as the ratings numbers slide as each season progresses and completely fail to note that every damn show on UK TV loses viewers as the summer starts and people are out and about more and off on holidays. But hey, why check the facts when it would kill and easy and attention grabbing story about one of the nation's favourite programme?

Now what we have to remember is that Doctor Who has the Easter to summer slot because before it was brought back to our screens, no one expected it to be the smash hit it is now. Hence it got less than prestigious place in the yearly schedule at a time when audience figures are dwindling across the board. 

But now the show is back and has a firm place in the nation's hearts, many fans have been wondering for a while why the BBC hasn't moved the show to a slot later in the year. Aside from the fan perspective that it is inherently wrong to be watching Who with sun streaming in through the windows, it would surely make more sense to screen it in the autumn where the largest audiences roam free. And indeed many, myself included, suspected that Tenant's last year of four specials would provide the break in the established routine to move the show. 

However seeing how it is only in the last two years that iPlayer figures have been released alongside the usual ratings and audience appreciation scores, I'm guessing that it is only now that Auntie Beeb's suits can see that the figures swell considerably when catch-up viewers are added and there is proof positive that moving the show to the autumn would pay off in ratings terms. 

And a fair number people have wondered whether this year's split season is a bridging mechanism for the change. Of course, we should also remember that this year's format has been heralded as an omen doom by fools who seem to think that two portions of Who with a far shorter gap between TARDIS appearances on our screens is somehow appallingly worse than the nine month wait between series we had since 2005. In the words of the Dalai Lama 'get a f***ing grip'...

Now my reaction to today's news was the notion that Series 7 would be similarly split, but with half airing in the autumn in 2012, then the now traditional Christmas special, and the second half appearing in early 2013. And indeed, this is the plan that is being reported by Bleeding Cool (though where they are getting their information from is open to question).

However this possible schedule would make a lot of sense. To start with Doctor Who would be airing again in  the slot the classic series held in its heyday, a return to its ancestral home just in time for its 50th birthday. But the weight of nostalgia and history aside, it would also soaking up the best audiences in the prime viewing slots and get those extra millions watching on iPlayer on the books, not to mention all those who *ahem* video the show via illegal download. 

Of course, there may well be budgetary factors in not showing all the 14 slated episodes in 2012 - the current bunch of cut-throats that are masquerading as a government here in the UK are putting the squeeze on the BBC. However Doctor Who is such a big money spinner, not to mention a hit with audiences too, that it's extremely unlikely that executives are plotting the show's downfall. 

A longer wait for episodes may well be frustrating but as the year of specials proved, Doctor Who is so well loved it can comfortably survive a break in the usual schedule. And if it means a return to higher ratings pastures, that is only good for both the show itself and the BBC as a whole.   

Of course, until there is a further official announcement much of the above is just speculation, but it is far more likely than the paranoid rumours of the series' death. For all this panic about the show disappearing for a year, or that it is in somehow in trouble, are as about as credible as the dubious interpretations of the Mayan calendar that say the world will end in 2012. Unless of course a mass of internet knee-jerk reactions over Doctor Who throw the planet out of orbit...

Don't get me wrong, I love the show to bits and yes, a wait is very annoying, but we shouldn't spin our personal disappointment into some massive disaster or sinister conspiracy. The important facts are that there is at least 14 more episodes to come, and it is a sign of the faith the BBC has in the Doctor Who that this decision has been made so early. Plus they do appear to be planning to mark the anniversary in a big way. So while 2012 may be a little lighter on adventures in the TARDIS, 2013 may well restore the balance.  

Right, hope that cleared that up. I'm off for a relaxing pint down my local, The Gillan's Legs... as soon as they open! 


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

'Not altogether crows, nor moles, nor buzzards, nor ants, nor decomposed human beings, but something I cannot and must not recall...'



A curious print discovered in a deserted house...

I believe it is 19th century french work by one Louis Bolanger entitled 'Phantoms'. However those familiar with the Necronomicion or Malleus Monstrorum may suspect that rather than depicting a common or garden spectre, what we have here is in fact a rare depiction of a Byakhee...

Friday, 10 June 2011

OF CENTIPEDES & CENSORS


This week the internet has been all of flutter, over the recent news that The British Board of Film Classification has refused The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) a certificate. And, of course, nothing inflames film fans more than censorship. However while I am firmly opposed to censorship, and obviously there is a need for film classification, I do think that it’s too easy to have a ‘how dare they tell me what I can watch’ reaction that is every bit as kneejerk as the moral guardian’s cries of ‘ban this sick filth”.

So before pouring scorn on the BBFC, let’s examine this particular case further. Firstly refusing the movie a certificate does not constitute a ban, as the film may still be played in theatres with permission from the local council. Now in this case, while seeming bad news for both director Tom Six and the distributors, it’s worth noting that this film was NOT submitted for a theatrical release – it was to be certified for home video. However in being refused a certificate, that does mean that The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) won’t get a UK release on DVD and furthermore "cannot be legally supplied anywhere in the UK".

However, interestingly the first movie, The Human Centipede (First Sequence), was passed uncut by the BBFC. Now I’ve not seen this particular flick, not out of any objection to the contents, but rather because numerous reviews from both critics and friends convinced me it wasn’t really worth my time. By all accounts, it is not a graphic film – the central concept is revolting but not explicitly depicted – just a rather bad one. Seemingly it was a poor entry in the mad doctor subgenre rather than ‘torture porn’, full of plot holes and stilted dialogue, inept to the point that Ted and Tony of Horror Etc Podcast wondered whether it was meant to be a black comedy.

And this struck me as being highly likely. Director Tom Six and the distributors made sure there was a lot of noise about the movie, making sure every one knew the central concept and that is was alleged ‘medically possible”. And indeed, many flocked to see it to find out how sick it was, but discovered a rather conventional and somewhat pedestrian slice of mad science. So then as the film wasn’t delivering graphic unpleasantness, it seemed like the whole movie was a prank pulled on audiences.

But the sequel it would seem it a different kettle of insects entirely. And judging from the BBFC’s report, you can understand why the second movie ran into trouble –
The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is a sequel to the film The Human Centipede (First Sequence), which was classified ‘18’ uncut for cinema and DVD release by the BBFC in 2010. The first film dealt with a mad doctor who sews together three kidnapped people in order to produce the ‘human centipede’ of the title. Although the concept of the film was undoubtedly tasteless and disgusting it was a relatively traditional and conventional horror film and the Board concluded that it was not in breach of our Guidelines at ‘18’. This new work, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), tells the story of a man who becomes sexually obsessed with a DVD recording of the first film and who imagines putting the ‘centipede’ idea into practice. Unlike the first film, the sequel presents graphic images of sexual violence, forced defecation, and mutilation, and the viewer is invited to witness events from the perspective of the protagonist. Whereas in the first film the ‘centipede’ idea is presented as a revolting medical experiment, with the focus on whether the victims will be able to escape, this sequel presents the ‘centipede’ idea as the object of the protagonist’s depraved sexual fantasy.

The principal focus of The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is the sexual arousal of the central character at both the idea and the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture, and murder of his naked victims. Examples of this include a scene early in the film in which he masturbates whilst he watches a DVD of the original Human Centipede film, with sandpaper wrapped around his penis, and a sequence later in the film in which he becomes aroused at the sight of the members of the ‘centipede’ being forced to defecate into one another’s mouths, culminating in sight of the man wrapping barbed wire around his penis and raping the woman at the rear of the ‘centipede’. There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalised, degraded and mutilated for the amusement and arousal of the central character, as well as for the pleasure of the audience. There is a strong focus throughout on the link between sexual arousal and sexual violence and a clear association between pain, perversity and sexual pleasure. It is the Board’s conclusion that the explicit presentation of the central character’s obsessive sexually violent fantasies is in breach of its Classification Guidelines and poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers.
Rather unpleasant, I’ve sure you’ll agree. And not just the description of the acts featured in the film but those closing lines about risks to the viewer…

Empire Magazine emailed director Six for a response. And here’s what they received –

Thank you BBFC for putting spoilers of my movie on your website and thank you for banning my film in this exceptional way. Apparently I made an horrific horror-film, but shouldn't a good horror film be horrific? My dear people it is a f****cking MOVIE. It is all fictional. Not real. It is all make-belief. It is art. Give people their own choice to watch it or not. If people can't handle or like my movies they just don't watch them. If people like my movies they have to be able to see it any time, anywhere also in the UK.

Now you may well say that Six, errors aside (three asterisks?) has a valid point, however he is ignoring the second, more crucial, part of the report which concludes with a clarifying statement from the BBFC’s Director David Cooke –

It is the Board’s carefully considered view that to issue a certificate to this work, even if confined to adults, would be inconsistent with the Board’s Guidelines, would risk potential harm within the terms of the VRA, and would be unacceptable to the public.

The Board also seeks to avoid classifying material that may be in breach of the Obscene Publications Acts 1959 and 1964 (OPA) or any other relevant legislation. The OPA prohibits the publication of works that have a tendency to deprave or corrupt a significant proportion of those likely to see them. In order to avoid classifying potentially obscene material, the Board engages in regular discussions with the relevant enforcement agencies, including the CPS, the police, and the Ministry of Justice. It is the Board’s view that there is a genuine risk that this video work, The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), may be considered obscene within the terms of the OPA, for the reasons given above.

The Board considered whether its concerns could be dealt with through cuts. However, given that the unacceptable content runs throughout the work, cuts are not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification.

Now the key point here is the reference to the VRA, which is the Video Recordings Act, a piece of legislation spawned by the 1980s video nasty storm. And it should be noted that the problem is not the content itself per se, but the fact that the content risks breaching the Obscene Publications Acts, laws that bind the BBFC as much as the film distributors. And it is in reference to these laws that we get the lines about 'risks to potential viewers' - so it is not evidence of the BBFC being staffed with prudish Victorians, but a reference to the legal phrasing and definitions found in this legislation.

Now the BBFC is very lenient these days, favouring clear classification with indications of what type of material is containing a film (i.e. the kind of language, violence and nudity within, as well as tone of content) rather than snipping away with scissors and imposing bans. However occasionally movies appear that will require cuts, but the Board does carefully consider the context and nature of the material that needs to be trimmed – for example consider this report on the cuts required to make A Serbian Film and the remake of I Spit On Your Grave complaint with its guidelines (and by extension the VRA and OPA)

And it is extremely rare for a film to be refused a certificate outright, the last notable instance was the Japanese gore flick Grotesque which failed to be passed by the BBFC for pretty much the same reasons as The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).

Also we should note that the VRA was not created by the BBFC. It arose from a tabloid media storm over the so called video nasties which resulted in self appointed media watchdogs and moralists, the National Viewers and Listeners Association, finding the ear of Graham Bright, a backbench MP who introduced a private members the bill, which resulted in the Act.

Hence the decision to refuse The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) a certificate is more due to the possible ramifications of what would happen if they had passed it and then the movie was prosecuted under the VRA or the Obscene Publications Act. Given that the first Human Centipede gained a relatively high media profile due to it’s allegedly shocking nature, you can easily see how, if passed, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) could become a flagship title for the same self-appointed guardians of morals to bring political pressure on the BBFC to 'toughen up' and 'ban this sick filth'.

Now I'm NOT suggesting that the BBFC occasionally refuses certification just to ensure they are seen to be doing their job, deliberately selecting a movie for use in an arcane socio-political voodoo ritual. Rather they are clearly well aware of not just the legalities but possible consequences in passing material that could bring down the legal force of the Obscene Publications Acts and have police pouncing upon distributors and retailers. No one in the cinema industry, even those holding the censor’s scissors, wants to see more government legislation or the kind of police raids that ruined businesses and lives at the height of the video nasties panic. As author and film critic, Kim Newman remarks on the discussion about the BBFC decision on his Facebook page –
Simply put, the complaints of anti-censorship libertarians (like me, like many people I know) when something is banned does not extend to taking people to court (and opening the BBFC up to a loss of its statutory powers) ... the complaints of pro-censorship media and organisations when something is passed do.
So while as unpalatable as the fate of the UK release of The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) is for libertarians, in principle at least, we have to recognise that the problem isn’t the BBFC but the legislation containing in both the Video Recordings and the Obscene Publications Acts. Almost perversely then, in refusing this movie a certificate because of the possible legal difficulties it could spawn, the BBFC are in fact acting in the interests of film makers’ freedoms rather supporting the censorship lobby.

Now it’s clear from the fact that The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) wasn’t submitted for classification for a theatrical release that all concerned were well aware that the movie’s content was going to be problematic. He claims his film is ‘art’ but I’m not sure we can take this entirely seriously. The fact that he complains that the BBFC report contains ‘spoilers’ would seem to indicate there is little of merit other than shock value to this sequel. And while one should never judge a move before one has seen it, I think it’s a fairly safe bet there isn’t a massive amount of narrative, never mind artistic, justification for its excesses, something that the BBFC report bears out.

Now given the marketing of Six’s first movie, it would seem that he knows all the buttons and levers on the hype machine, so one has to wonder whether submitting the movie to the BBFC was just a ruse to whip up controversy. For I am struggling to believe that either Six or his backers were unaware of the BBFC guidelines before submitting the film, and I rather suspect like Mr Lee Medcalf in this article, that is was an exercise in generating media outrage that translates to free publicity. I’d guess the intention was to submit an extreme cut, watch the column inches grow and then resubmit the ‘real’ less extreme cut and watch the DVD sales roll in. However the scheme seems to backfired, as the BBFC has decided that the problems with The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) can’t be solved with excising scenes or trimming shots.

And I suspect this is the real reason Six is so annoyed, as having been refused a certificate the movie now cannot be purchased in the UK, and reputable online merchants wary of breaking what is perceived as a ban will make sure it does not appear on stock listings for the UK. However it should also be noted that all this nonsense could have been avoided.

For despite the VRA, there's a host of extreme films, for example faux snuff movies like August Underground series, which are not rated by the BBFC but readily available for import through the afore mentioned reputable online retailers like Amazon. Technically, it is against UK law to supply unrated movies, but it would appear that provided that a film hasn’t been submitted and failed to gain a certificate, fallen foul of the Obscene Publications Act, or generated a huge outcry from moral guardians, then you are free to import such extreme titles. Hence he could have released the film unrated in territories that allow film makers to do so like the US, and let interested parties quietly order it.

And if Six were truly more interested in his film’s *ahem* artistic merits, then this would be a perfectly acceptable route to go down. However I suspect this whole palaver is more an exercise in increasing the size of his wallet rather than challenging cinema goers, hence this controversy. And if indeed this was a marketing stunt gone wrong, then really he only has himself to blame.

Now we all love a good promotional gimmick, but at the same time there is a need for care. Looking back at the 1980s Video Nasty controversy*, amid all the criticism of the overreactions of the moral guardians of the day it’s often forgot that the video industry itself was slightly responsible as several films that ended up on the banned list did so not because of their contents but the blurb on their boxes which over-hyped the gore and violence that lay within. Censor baiting may garner free publicity, however if your film IS ‘doing exactly what it says on tin’ then opting to generate outrage is a very dangerous thing indeed. For unlike many of the so called nasties, where exaggerated and hearsay claims of depravity can be easily refuted, if your film DOES contain the unpleasantness promised, then you are risking not only sanctions for your movie but an industry wide backlash from the zealous guardians of our morals. In this light, Six is a bigger enemy to cinematic freedom than the BBFC is.

It’s easy to see the Video Nasty furore as something which happened because people in the past were idiots, but in fact you are idiot if you think it can’t and won’t happen again. There’s already been enough frothing and sputtering over ‘torture porn’ in recent years, and there is a fertile climate in which another clamp-down could occur. Too many Western governments are losing the public’s confidence in a time when they are seen to be pandering to the bankers and making the public pay for the financial world’s economy wrecking mistakes, and therefore politicians will be only too glad to seize upon any issue that will lend them an air of morality to counter the feeling that they are too interested in feathering their own nests rather than acting for the good of the people.

Considering that the BBFC in recent years has been extremely liberal – light years ahead in its attitudes than its former incarnations – I am inclined to take their ruling on The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) on trust as the correct decision. Paradoxical I know for some one who is anti-censorship, but there are larger issues to consider. And rather than as the first step back to heavy censorship, I see the refusal of a certificate for Six’s sequel to be a necessary, if somewhat galling in principle, step to ensure that film makers continue to enjoy the freedoms they do. And let’s be honest, we’re not losing another Citizen Kane here…

As I pointed out earlier, if you are looking for a target to rail against, don’t blame the BBFC – they are just working within government imposed legal limits. Instead complain about the Video Recording Act which lies at the root of this ruling. Of course, alternatively you could blame Tom Six for being a stupidly publicity hungry, cash-grabbing idiot…


* For more on this do check out Jake West's documentary Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide and my discussion of it in this episode of HYPNOBOBS

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

What words do you live by?


'Klaatu barada nikto!'

DOCTOR WHO - A GOOD MAN GOES TO THE SPOILER ZONE



So then the battle for Demon’s Run is over, and at last I can remove the spoiler gauntlets and reveal some more detailed thoughts on this first ever mid-season finale. Now as I’ve already stated in my spoiler-free write-up, this was a great episode, fast paced and full of action, drama and humour. It was a thrilling and fun way to round off this first half of the season, with many great moments and fascinating elements.

First off, I was highly delighted that the inclusion of the Sontarans, Silurians and Cybermen did not herald anything as prosaic as the Alliance from the end of last season reforming. I had a sneaking suspicion that Moffat was going to subvert such expectations and feature a very different alliance, one formed by the Doctor...

And indeed this was the case. From the somewhat sentimental point of view of an old fan, it was a real pleasure to see the Doctor and the Silurians working together at last, after all those past clashes where his attempts to establish a detente had come to naught. Neve McIntosh, with previously played Alaya and Restac in last season’s Silurian two parter, gives us another memorable performance, and shows she could easily carry a series of her own - and I’m guessing I’m not alone is wishing for a spin-off series for Madame Vastra and Jenny.

The on-going adventures of a Silurian lady in Victorian London has great scope; not only do we have rich characters and a vivid setting but there’s also room for some classic fish-out-of-water antics as Vastra comes to terms with living in a completely alien future society like a Jurassic Adam Adamant. It may sound something of a far fetched concept, but the Victorians were quite as stuffy as we believe them to be *; theirs was a society based on cutting edge technology and delighted in new sensations, and many differently abled persons turned their physical misfortunes into success and celebrity in this culture that sought the shock of the new. Hence Madame Vastra could easily integrate into Victorian society by claiming she was afflicted with an unusual skin condition.

Equally pleasing for dyed-in-the-scarf Who fans was Commander Strax, played with aplomb by Dan Starkey. The concept of a Sontaran doing penance as working as a nurse was a delight to behold, and aside from providing some very fun lines, the idea itself is exactly the kind of intelligent inversion that the race’s creator and legendary Who scribe, Robert Holmes revelled in. And while Strax’s statements did produced some great laughs, these funny to human ears pronouncements give us an insight into an alien society who view things very differently. Too often in the show’s past, the Sontarans have been written as the run of the mill intergalactic warmongers, and so far the new series has gone to the back to basics established by Holmes in their first appearance The Time Warrior; that this race is not evil per se, but just hold different values to us.

I do have on very minor quibble here though, where Moffat missed a trick. When Strax is dying, he objects to Rory referring to him as ‘a great warrior’, countering that he is just a nurse. Now personally I’d have had The Last Centurion gently reply ‘So am I...’ Feel free to add that to the fan edit that runs in your heads.

Moving swiftly on, the Cybermen’s appearance was brief but spectacular. The scenes of mayhem in the Cyber Legion’s HQ was truly cinematic and also delivered perhaps my favourite moment of the episode - Rory facing down a room of silver giants and saying ‘Do you want me to repeat the question?’. As well as air punching all round, sharp eyed viewers may have noted that these Cybermen appear to be native to our universe, rather than those from Pete’s World, for if you look closely they do not have the Cybus logo on their chest plates.


But enough of remarking on the little details, what of the big reveal that River Song is Amy and Rory’s daughter? Well, I have to say that I did see it coming, although to be honest I can’t claim a right guess here. You see the thing is, I’ve read, heard and indeed indulged in so much speculation as to the truth about River Song, I had hit on the idea she was Amy’s child. But with so many other possibilities for my imagination to play with, I’d never selected it or any other theory as my best guess. After all this is Moffat story line, and he’s good at weaving plot threads in unexpected ways, so I was content to speculate without reaching a firm conclusion and just enjoy the ride.

However in the opening scenes of this episode when Amy named her baby ‘Melody’, I became fairly sure that River was her child. And when River told Rory that she could join the battle for Demon’s Run until the end, I became certain that not only was this was the case but also that little Melody wouldn’t be safe with her family.

And why? Well in the Doctor Who universe there is a thing called the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. The exact nature of this law of Time, first mentioned in Day of the Daleks is uncertain, but what we do know is that it is extremely hazardous to cross one’s own time stream. Remember how Rose was instructed to stay away from her baby self in Father’s Day, this is because if they touched there would be an explosion of time energy, potentially opening a rift in the space-time continuum. And we have seen this in the show before, firstly in Mawdryn Undead in the classic series, but also last year in The Big Bang. In the latter we saw the Doctor test to see if the multiple sonic screwdrivers were the same item and there a resulting ‘pop’ – now I know it didn’t look terribly serious but remember that at that time the Universe had all but collapsed and so the energy discharge was tiny.

But what of all those Doctor team-up stories, you say… Well, apparently as Time-sensitive species, they are at least partially immune to the effect but still it’s generally considered bad form to go messing about in your own time stream. As Time Lord or not, there is the possibility of creating damaging paradoxes and time loops, not to mention risking attracting the unwelcome attentions of the denizens of the Time Vortex like Reapers, Chronovores and continuity obsessed fanboys.

Therefore as a time traveller, and indeed as an associate of the Doctor, River no doubt realised that appearing early would be temporally risky. Plus she probably already knows the story of the events surrounding her birth, and therefore she can’t appear until the allotted moment without rewriting time.

But anyhow all that’s beside the point (what were you saying about continuity obsessed fanboys, hmm? Mr Kettle meet Mr Pot… - Ed. ), back to the reveal proper. Now, the big problem was setting up big mysteries is that now matter how well you execute them there is always the risk that when you finally lay the cards on the table, it’s going to be a let-down. Of course, you are on better ground if you have planned your story arc out properly from the beginning for cobbling something to fit at the last minute is rarely successful (looks disapprovingly at Battlestar Galactica), but even then it is a bit of damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. If you lay down clues and allow your audience a decent chance of guessing, some will be disappointed even though they were right, while if you pull something out of left field in a sneaky fashion, other will cry cheat.

Now personally, I was just a tad underwhelmed by the reveal as I’d put the clues together beforehand. But I stress just a tad, for I didn’t get there until this episode. But all the same it was beautifully played, and actually the more I think about it, the more questions it raises. River being Melody isn’t the final answer, it’s just another piece, albeit a big one, to a larger puzzle.


To begin with, if River is Melody why doesn't see remember being in the spacesuit and killing the Doctor? Could this be down to Silent-generated amnesia? Or are we barking up the wrong tree in assuming that the little girl astronaut who later regenerates is River Song?

Remember we have already seen River die in Forest of the Dead and there was no regeneration then… Of course, the incident at the core could be one of those sudden fatal events that not even regeneration can save. Or possibly she has lost this Time Lord ability in later years.

And there is also the mystery of why their time lines are running in opposite directions. Of course skipping about the whole of history is going to lead to meeting folks out of sequence, but it seems mightily suspect to me that every River we met is at an earlier point in her time line. Surely sometimes they’d managed to meet in the right order? And when you consider that in the classic series, there appeared to be some mechanism which ensure Time Lords always met in the right sequence (i.e. the latest incarnation of the Doctor always encounter the latest version of the Master), the fact that River and Doctor’s time lines are running in opposite directions suggests there’s something very unusual going on here.

And there’s an even bigger question looming over us - we still don’t know who ‘the good man, the best I ever knew’ she killed is…

However, as she takes the name River Song, this could suggest she ends up spending part of her early life in the Gamma Forest. Certainly the scene when the Doctor and Lorna Bucket finally, and tragically, meet again could be read as indicating that the meeting with child Lorna has yet to occur. Yes, I know he claimed to remember her but after her passing he does ask Madame Vastra who she was and also bear in mind River’s First Rule About The Doctor - he always lies. So then, could we be set for a trip to the Gamma Forest in the second half of this season where maybe the Doctor will meet the young Lorna?

On firmer ground, River being at least part Time Lord certainly makes more sense of their future relationship. Aside from being exactly the Doctor’s kind of woman (see here for a previous discussion of this), being as close to one of his own race as is possible in the cosmos certainly, and understandably, adds to the attraction.

Now also we should assess how well this reveal lives up to Moffat’s claim that it would be ‘a game changer’. Now this statement has generated a lot speculation over the last few months and while this episode was heaps of fun, some have rightly questioned whether it delivered all that was expected.

Firstly, in the story line itself we were built up to to the Doctor ‘never rising higher’ only to tumble into ‘his darkest hour’. Quite a claim to live up too, as the Doctor has pulled some massive strokes in his time, such as saving the entire cosmos on more than one occasion not to mention giving beings with the powers of gods a good drubbing to boot. Therefore at first glance, the battle for Demon’s Run was pretty much business as usual.

But perhaps we should remember that the only person saying this is River Song; it’s not an ancient prophecy but a personal interpretation of events. So then, from her perspective, from what she has seen the Doctor do in her lifetime, her assessment of the battle for Demon’s Run, could well qualify for the zenith and nadir of the Doctor. Plus this is her story, so there is bound to be some bias, particularly as her foreknowledge most likely comes from her parents.

But that said, his battle at Demon’s Run is notable for two reasons. Firstly we have him allying with old adversaries and win without bloodshed. But secondly, and more importantly, this victory is fleeting. Not only are there causalities, but actually the Doctor ultimately loses. Not only does he fail to rescue Melody, but Madame Kovarion has tricked him twice and he has badly let down Amy and Rory.

And all this has come about becomes of his own hubris. And it’s not just in the confident jokey business-as-usual manner he tackled the rescue operation but in the general way over the last several incarnations he has unthinkingly become oblivious to the consequences of his actions. As River Song points out he is now so feared that Kovarion and co. are waging a war against him and this chain of events stem from his recent grandstanding.

Now in a comment to my spoiler free review, Mr Lee Medcalf of The Black Dog Podcast, wondered why the Doctor was in the main so causal in his reaction to this assault on his loved ones. Was this misjudged writing, direction or performance? And indeed I must admit to wondering the same. But having reflected on the matter, it becomes clear that this wasn’t a dramatic misstep but the final act of a man who has begun to believe in his own legend too much. For it is precisely because he believes he can outfox anyone or anything in the universe that he fails to notice that his victory is, as Dorium points out, ‘too easy’.

Now then the Doctor being defeated is indeed a rare thing and equally uncommon is a whole situation being his own fault. So then, while he has tackled far bigger threats, such as would-be universe devourers like The Beast or Sutekh, this truly is a very personal dark hour.

But is it really game-changing? Well, at first glance no. But considering the implications, it certainly changes all the key dynamics between the regular cast. But also we should remember that the story is far from over, and I suspect there are further troubles to come and the dark hour may not have concluded yet. For example, consider the final post credits sequence - the caption ‘Time is running out..’ and a skeletal hand clutching a dying sonic screwdriver. So then I’m guessing that we don’t yet realise the full consequences of this episode. It could well be a pivotal point in the Doctor’s history.



And the title for the next episode - Let’s Kill Hitler - while hinting at a monstrously cheeky story line also has more sinister undertones. For while it seems to promise another venture to World War Two, complete with Churchill, spitfires and possibly more ‘ironsides’, we should note that this could be reference to that old time travel moral dilemma - if you could go back in time, would it be ethical to kill Hitler as a child? Now bearing in mind, we have a theme developed in this story about the consequences of the Doctor’s actions, this reference to that classic moral maze becomes somewhat ominous...

Certainly it would appear that Moffat has a plot line in mind that is going to change the way the Doctor’s operates and possibly redefines the character itself. And while the cliff-hanger to A Good Man Goes To War might seem a little in the shadow on the climax of The Almost People in the leaving the audience in suspense stakes, the more you consider what it may be leading too the more the speculation engine overheats... Which is the ideal place to leave the series for the break; an open door to new adventures that a bouncer called ‘summer’ won’t let us through yet... Roll on autumn, dark nights, and more Doctor Who!




* Interested readers should check out Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians, a fascinating tome which demonstrates how wrong the popular image of this period is.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

HYPNOBOBS 35 - The Gateway of The Monster


Continuing our exploration of the Casebook of Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, in the Library of  Dreams, Mr Jim Moon snugs down in his armchair and recounts the terrifying tale of The Gateway of the Monster...

Direct download - HYPNOBOBS 35 - The Gateway of The Monster

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Saturday, 4 June 2011

DOCTOR WHO 6.07 - A Good Man Goes To War




Scanners indicate an absence of spoilers

Yesterday morning, just for a change, the British weather actually deigned to deliver an archetypal summer’s day rather than the usual rainy drivel it increasingly fobs us off with. So then, there were blue skies, high temperatures and blazing sun. Across the land, parks and gardens filled with folk working on their tans and the scent of barbeques filled the air. Workers sought the flimsiest excuse to run unnecessary errands and get outside and into the sunshine, while yet others indulged in the ancient and noble British traditions of drinking to excess and projectile vomiting onto the statues in the town centre…

However for Doctor Who fans none of this summer goodness mattered not one jot, for they knew a storm was on the horizon, a dark day was coming and good man was going to war…

…But while we were all looking forward to this grand finale of the first half of Series 6, there was the heavy burden of knowing that without a doubt, Moffat and Co. were doing to leave us with a massive cliff-hanger and a long wait until autumn.

And for this humble scribbler, there was the certain knowledge that this mid-season finale would prove to be an absolute nightmare to review without leaking any potential spoilers. And indeed it is! But I'd have to say in the best possible way...

So then, firstly let’s address what is already common knowledge, that this episode features the return of three classic villains and weigh up how these members of the League of Famous Monsters fare in this story…

SONTARANS… are glorious in battle! And spouting some of best lines since The Time Warrior

SILURIANS… are back on en masse and a certain warrior, ‘Madame Vastra’ is destined to be a fan favourite.

CYBERMEN… Rather than being terrified of the implacable silver giants, I was actually scared FOR them in this adventure...

But this motley crew weren’t the only returning faces. For also back on our screens was Dorium (AKA The Big Fat Blue Bloke) who we first saw in the opening scenes of The Pandorica Opens and in the prequel to this episode…



But you don’t want to know about him do you? No, you want to know about a certain female who keeps appearing…

I refer of course to THE EYEPATCH LADY – yes, this episode we finally get to meet her properly and discover something of who she is…

What you do mean that wasn’t who you were talking about?

Well, enough teasing – I’ll leave that to the master of such shenanigans, Mr Moffat. Yes, RIVER SONG is back. And yes, we do finally learn who she really is. Now as there has been so much speculation over her real identity, among all the wild theories I encountered one indeed was right. So some of you will be patting yourselves on the back for guessing correctly, while many more will face palming and shouting ‘of course!’. However be warned, whether you guessed right or wrong, the answers will probably spark a few more questions!

As for the regular cast, Amy is top form again; she has a wonderful line, beautifully delivered in the pre-credits sequence that’s worth the price of admission alone. Of course Matt Smith is excellent as always, seen his running the gauntlet of emotions from good humour, to cold rage to absolute heart break. And we get to see the Doctor absolutely tongue-tied. But I ain't saying about what obviously!

But Rory... well Rory simply rocks. Last review I remarked how I’d been slow to warm to his character but this series he was finding a place in my heart. Well after tonight’s episode, he’s got the deeds! Massive props to Arthur Davrill.

And finally then to the last question on your lips – how maddeningly cruel is the cliff-hanger? Well, it’s pretty big; there’s enough revealed to be satisfying but plenty left up in the air to get the autumn return off to a flying start.

Over all, there’s only one word for this episode and that is ‘epic’. There are surprises galore, plenty of explosions, and the new characters, the Headless Monks are very creepy. But as well as action, the high drama and touching emotional moments, there are more than a few laughs along the way too. It's fine way to wrap up this half of the season. What unfolds at Demon’s Run is, if you’ll pardon the pun, one hell of ride…