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Holy Flying Circus

monty_pythons_flying_circus_uk-show There’s not enough Monty Python on TV, so I set my Tivo to record anything from the boys, and it came up with this gem.

Holy Flying Circus  is a strange kind of meta-dramatisation of the events just after the launch of Life Of Brian . It is a surreal look at how church groups orchestrated a partial ban of the film in it’s home market. It is, in effect, a drama about Monty Python in the style of Monty Python.

The acting is top notch. The film focuses on John Cleese (played by Darren Boyd ) and Michael Palin (Charles Edwards) , but these are very exaggerated versions of the real life Pythons, a fact acknowledged by the drama in various asides and “fourth wall” breaking mentions of the world outside the dramatised re-enactment, including gags about BBC4 (who commissioned this). Steve Punt also provides an excellent Eric Idle , and the actors playing Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman also do sterling work. Rufus Jones, as Terry Jones, also plays Palins wife – a common Python trope where the guys plays the gals. The nods to the films and TV series continues throughout, such as the use of speech impediments. In fact, apart from Eric Idle himself in the opening sequence no actual members of the comedy troupe are involved.

The drama starts in 1979 with the Monty Python crew returned from Tunisia, feel buoyed by the little movie they just made. Although aware that Brian’s content may prove controversial they still believe that, through comedy, they’ve made an important point about religion. And anyway, everyone knows Brian is not Jesus – so there’s no problem.

Soon the American launch makes the headlines, and the British premiere likewise. Alan Dick, an over the top TV programmer hits on the idea of cashing in on this outrage and getting the Monty Python crew into a debate with some religious types.

The discussion in the UK about freedom of speech and religion was really quite important, but also quickly forgotten. There are some insightful points made here with the over the top profanity and “bad taste” one liners, but I guess at the time censorship was a big issue. This film benefits massively from hindsight. Stephen Fry, as God, has some interesting things to say in his cameo, but as I said it’s really the portrayal of the Pythons in their heyday that makes this TV gold.

It’s a hard job to follow or even emulate the Monty Python gang but I think this nails it perfectly. 9/10.




You’ll find YouTube is full of Monty Python (it’s own channel) and you’ll find the original TV debate here .



Torchwood: Children Of Earth Review

Torchwood: Children of Earth

Torchwood: Children of Earth

Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.

Torchwood, what happened to you?

Moved from the obscurity of BBC3 to BBC1. Shown at primetime, and on consecutive nights no less. This has turned from it’s “sexy scifi” origins into a real TV event.

And, boy – did it deliver!

I, and many other Dr. Who / Torchwood fans, did not expect much from this. Of course the previous two series had it’s surprises and stand-out episodes but in the main it was a fun, silly blast. Russell T. Davies, the head writer and the man responsible for bringing Who back from the dead, said it was his attempt at a US-style show, something along the lines of Buffy. You can see what he meant.

Torchwood: Children Of Earth is a different matter entirely.

This is a moral story, painfully so. It’s unrelentlessly bleak and depressing. It’s brave, moreso because of the peak time and channel it’s shown on. You might be forgiven for thinking it would be to Torchwood as the Who Christmas specials are to it’s parent show – light, entertaining fluff. You’d be seriously wrong.

The plot concerns an alien visitor coming to London and demanding that we turn over 10% of the worlds children – or our entire race will die. It soon turns out that a similar event happened in 1965, where we gave it 12 children in exchange for an antidote to a virulent form of influenza it used to threaten us.

John Frobisher, brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi, is a government paper-pusher tasked with dealing with the menace, mainly to keep the Prime Minister’s hands clean. The alien, called the 456 because of the frequency it used to communicate, sends instructions for a special room and airtight tank to be built so it can visit and hold court. But before this is done Frobisher has to ensure all details of the 1965 meeting are kept secret. He signs the assassination order for all those involved, including one Jack Harkness.

Jack is the leader of Torchwood, an organisation formed by Queen Victoria to protect Britain from alien threats. He has a long and convoluted story. Jack is “outside of time”, and is therefore immortal. And his assassins are aware of this. Lured into a meeting with Dr. Rupesh Patanjali he is shot and a bomb is implanted in his body. Upon resurrecting Jack returns to Torchwood, discovers the bomb, and all hell breaks loose.

The plot is brilliantly paced across the five days. What begins as the children of earth simply stopping in their tracks quickly escalates to them chanting in unison “We Are Coming”.

Although this is a science fiction story, it isn’t in your face. We have an alien visitor, but it’s not the true evil here. That is reserved for the higher echelons of government. This is character-driven. A weak Prime Minister excellently played by Nicholas Farrell is more concerned with keeping his job and his reputation. The Americans and Who favourites UNIT also become involved.

There are many stand out moments. The cabinet committee, coolly discussing which children we should hand over and deciding that we should give the 456 the children from the sink estates, from the lowest-performing schools. And deciding to keep their own children safe in the meantime.

There’s the character Clement McDonald, sole survivor of the 1965 abduction. He is, as are all the portrayals in this series, excellently plaid by Paul Copley.  The moment he sees Jack is a stand out moment, as are all the scenes where he appears as much more than simply a token “crazy”.

Then there’s Frobisher himself, who starts out as a mere pawn of the Prime Minister and who is eventually moved to shoot his entire family and commit suicide in order to protect his two daughters from the alien. This is a scene reminiscent of the dark ending in “The Mist”.

And there’s the moment when we discover why the 456 want our children. It’s because of the chemicals they produce , says the alien chillingly. It makes us feel good .

Then there’s the scene where Ianto, Jack’s lover and Torchwood stalwart dies. We almost cannot believe this, expecting some miracle cure to be discovered or some magical remedy to surface but no – he remains dead. Of course Torchwood is not afraid to kill off major characters, right from the pilot episode.

And, finally, we get to the end where Jack is forced to sacrifice his own Grandson in order to transmit some killer sound wave back to the alien, and thus save the earth. This kind of moral argument is prevalent in the series. The needs of the many over the needs of the few. Kill one, to save millions. Again, we expect the poor defenceless boy to resurrect, since he’s Jack’s grandson, but no. He dies.

We do eventually defeat the alien. I’d like to say that was a given, but because of the bleakness so far I wouldn’t have put it as a certainty. Even the prime minister gets his comeuppance as he pathetically states how “lucky” he is that the Americans took charge and that it’s their vault. We, as the viewer, can afford a smug grin as we realise that everything was recorded.

So Torchwood: Children of Earth is a must-see. It’s intelligent Science Fiction, unafraid to take risks, and it makes the most of it’s five-day story arc. Will there be more? I’m not sure, but I think there will. CoE was a ratings hit. It had nearly 6m viewers for the first day, but more importantly it kept most of the viewers right through to the final day, even increasing that count as it went. It’s debatable whether the BBC should be in the ratings game at all, but there’s no doubt this was a success. Doctor Who proved that SciFi can be mainstream, and with CoE Torchwood has shown it can reach those heights too.

The danger is, of course, we won’t get a full series again. It may be another five day story, because of the success of this. In many ways Torchwood benefited greatly from this. It has been done before, notably in the beebs historical adaptations or in two-parters of shows like Waking The Dead, but a five dayer is a rarity. However I’d like there to be a full 13 or so episode series, even though I know it would mostly be single stories. We don’t make shows like 24 or Lost in this country, with 20+ episodes and continuing story lines, but surely something like Torchwood would be ripe for that kind of treatment.

Russell T. Davies has shown us how great a scriptwriter he can be. He personally wrote days 1 and 5, and plotted the whole arc. Sometimes in the past he has faced criticism from fans for various Who episodes he has helmed, but with CoE and given free reign by the BBC he has shot those critics down.

If Torchwood continues it will be a new crew. Already in this series we lacked Toshiko and Owen. Then we lost Ianto. Gwen is pregnant, so maybe she’ll return and maybe she won’t. But John Barrowman, a star sometimes accused of overacting and who is maybe in danger of overexposure, is likely to want to continue. There are options we have seen already: Johnson the government fixer would be a great addition to the crew, as would Lois Habiba (who acted as Torchwood’s government insider) and even Jack’s daughter, Alice.

If you didn’t catch Torchwood and – even though you’ve read this far and now know most of the plot – you can see it at Iplayer. If you’re in the US it will be shown on BBC America later this month. Everyone else will have to grab the DVD , use a proxy to access iPlayer , or (ahem) use the usual sources.

Torchwood: Children of Earth gets a 10 / 10 from me.

For more information visit the official BBC mini-site or check out the always dependable IMDB and Wikipedia .

BBC Merlin Review

Merlin is the new primetime BBC series, that takes the Arthurian legend into the kind of territory that was used for the channels Robin Hood and others.

So yes, it’s a “re-imagining” of the classic. It concerns a young Merlin and a young Arthur. In this series, Uther is on the throne of Camelot, and has banned magic from the kingdom. The dragons have been defeated, apart from one he keeps in his dungeons, and so Merlin must learn to keep his burgeoning talents quiet.

Don’t expect a strong story here, as it’s very much standalone episodes with a challenge-of-the-week format (so far). The first episode concerned Merlin’s arrival in Camelot and a plot against the young prince by a vengeful sorceress. The second episode was about a Tournament for the kingdoms knights. In each, Merlin has to surreptitiously use his magic to defeat these perils.

The cast is pretty good. Merlin is played with conviction by Colin Morgan. ( My Merlin will always be Nicol Williamson in Excalibur 🙂 ) You’ll also find Richard Wilson (One Foot in The Grave) as the good doctor Gaius, Merlins guardian – and Anthony Head (Buffy, Gold Blend…) as King Uther Pendragon. Somehow, John Hurt is involved as the voice of the dragon. There are also guest stars in each episode: Will Melor (from Two Pints Of Lager) is the Knight Valiant (really…) in the second episode, and Eve Myles (from Torchwood) in the first. In fact, there’s very much a Torchwood/Doctor Who feel to the enterprise.

This is perfect weekend family TV. There is impressive attention to detail for this kind of thing – the Knights fight realistically, and the armour and weapons look the part, and the locations also fit well. The special effects are mainly CGI fare and again, are not to shabby.

Looking at reviews across the web it seems people find this too modern, and don’t like the fact that this isn’t true to the myth – but hey, it’s a children’s TV show. What do you expect?

Rating: 7.5 / 10

IMDB | BBC Homepage | Watch on iPlayer (UK Only)

Heroes Season 3 Ep01 and 02

So… Heroes is back!

And, I’m glad to say, it’s as brilliant as ever 🙂

Unlike, say, Prison Break Heroes has me hooked right from the start. After a sadly shortened second season due to the writers strike it seems the best has been kept until now.

Like Lost, Heroes has a continuing storyline constantly referencing events from the future and the past. In part, this new season – called “Villains” – continues the plots concerning Sylar, Mohinder, and the Petrellis, but it’s also a reboot of sorts, starting afresh. You don’t have to have seen the previous series to enjoy it.

Heroes has a rich mythology of modern “super heroes” and the shadowy concerns that help and hinder them. It’s also a commentary on human potential, of the power within each of us, and how the ordinary man can become extraordinary under the right circumstances.

Spoilers below. Highlight to view! (Ctrl+A)

This new series starts where the last finished. Who shot Nathan Petrelli? What happened to Nikki in the burning house? What becomes of Sylar? Some of these questions are answered in the first couple of episodes.

It turns out that Peter Petrelli, from the future, shot his brother to prevent events turning out as he experienced. His future is a time of persecution against the humans with extra abilities. Any series that uses Time Travel as a major plot device can become confusing and improbable, so I hope Heroes doesn’t follow this route too heavily – or at least does something new with it.

Sylar is still on the hunt for fresh powers. He eventually gets to Claire, and absorbs her power to regenerate – mentioning that she can never die in the process, and hinting towards something special in her particular power.

Hiro, at a loose end as the new boss of his fathers company, receives a DVD from his deceased parent. He learns of a secret formula that must be guarded at all costs in a humorous scene where his father instructs him “never to open the safe”. Unfortunately, he loses the formula immediately to a new character who can travel at the speed of sound / light. He also learns his best friend Ando betrays him in the future, and that Ando himself has, or gains, super powers.

And Mohinder isolates the genetic secret behind the Heroes power – and injects himself. He enjoys his new found super strength and vitality at first, but in episode 2 we see some unexpected side effects.

Then there’s the fact that some super villains who were locked up on Level 5 of the containment facility have escaped – Peter Petrelli (trapped in the image of another) among them. And Nathan Petrelli appears to have been saved by Linderman – excent no-one else can see him, and Nikki also appears to be someone else…

This is shaping up to an excellent series with plenty or surprises, twists and turns in store 🙂

Prison Break Season 04 Ep 01/02 Review

Prison Break – one of my favourites among the high class US dramas (along with Heroes, 24 and Lost) – is now at Season 4. The first two episodes have aired.

After escaping from Fox River, being on the run, then escaping Sona, our “heroes” now find themselves trying to bring down the mysterious Company .

Spoilers Alert! Click the to read more!