TV Review: Doctor Who S6 E01 – ‘The Impossible Astronaut’

Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston, Mark Sheppard ~ Writer: Steven Moffat ~ Director: Toby Haynes ~ Year: 2011

Doctor Who Series 6 Matt Smith Utah Filming The Impossible Astronaut

[xrr rating=4/5]

The Low-Down: Bold, bewildering and more than a little barmy, the opener to Season 6 of Doctor Who‘s new incarnation is an attention-grabbing adventure that may be a little too complicated at times, but certainly sets up one hell of an ongoing story arc…

What’s it About?: Mysteriously summoned to the Utah desert, the Doctor, Amy, Rory and Professor River Song are soon involved in a bizarre quest back to 1969, where dark events are occurring in the White House, and a sinister alien force lurks behind the scenes…

The Story: (WARNING: As with most of my Doctor Who reviews, the following contains a hefty load of spoilers…)

The RTD era is over. I mean, yes, it’s been over since The Eleventh Hour hopped onto our screens a year ago, but if there’s one thing that this opener to S6 brings home, it’s that this is very much a different show now. The Impossible Astronaut plays more like a season finale (which is a deliberate choice), and it’s about as far as it’s possible to get from the light, fluffy runaround nonsense of RTD opening episodes like Partners in Crime and Smith and Jones. In fact, it’s rather as if we’ve already leapt to Moffat’s equivalent of S4 continuity-fest The Stolen Earth with the sheer level of interconnections and fan service going on, and there’s a part of me that’s a tad concerned at this (especially as it’s always been the mix of daft showstoppers and brainier episodes that have kept the show’s popularity up) – but, admittedly, the rest of me is well and truly along for the ride.

And it’s certainly an eye-catching ride, managing to pull-off an epic, American adventure far better than the distinctly lacklustre Daleks in Manhattan two-parter in S3. There’s spectacle, there’s some great visuals- but on top of the gorgeous US location footage (which is sparing, but about as much as I figured we’d be getting, to be honest), there’s the major twist in the first ten minutes of the episode. Now, I already knew that one of the regulars ‘was going to die’ thanks to spoilers on the front of Doctor Who Magazine, and my money was on the Doctor, but not in the way it happened – a stark, bizarre and powerful scene that managed to have vague (probably deliberate) echoes of 1981 adventure Logopolis, where the soon-to-regenerate Doctor talks to the mysterious Watcher (who’s actually a projection of the Doctor’s future self). It’s really nice, very well acted, and is best because from then onwards it places all the characters in a really interesting emotional situation – the story does seem to be building up that everyone’s going to be keeping secrets from everyone else, and Moffat is also finding new wrinkles to the idea of having a married couple as TARDIS companions (especially if the ‘I’m Pregnant’ line is anything to go by).

Of course, there’s a get-out clause – and the Doctor being secretly enlisted by his own future self to possibly prevent his own death is a great set-up for a story, leading us in an admirably nutty direction while also giving Matt Smith plenty of chances to shine, showcasing the Eleventh Doctor’s comedy and his darker edges (along with his new status as Biggest Flirt in the Universe(TM)). The Impossible Astronaut is a fun, enjoyable and intriguing episode with plenty of standout moments and a great support performance from SF TV veteran Mark Sheppard, but in spite of the incredibly fast dialogue and the multitude of well-timed gags, it is a slow-burner – we’re more in character-building territory than all-out adventure, while the various enigmatic plot-threads have yet to connect up, meaning the final cliffhanger is more bemusing than thrilling simply because we don’t know yet what the hell is going on, leaving us with far more questions than answers (Why exactly is the Astronaut also a little girl? Why is Amy telling the Doctor right then that she’s pregnant? Is it because of what the Silent said? Why was the Future Doctor on the run for 200 years? Why are both Amy and River feeling ill after witnessing the Silents?).

I suspect that this’ll play much better once we’ve seen episode 2, and that maybe this story should have been shown as one big, attention-grabbing 90 minute special rather than a two-parter. With a new and intimidating enemy in the Silents (whose sequence in the White House bathroom is brilliantly spooky, even by Who standards) and a massive mystery (which is connected to the TARDIS-like craft from S5’s episode The Lodger, and may feed into the supposedly game-changing mid-season finale that’s coming in six weeks time), this is a different kind of Who opener that’s dark and demanding, but possibly a little too complicated at times. There’s also the feeling that Moffatt needs to be careful with the trans-temporal shenanigans from now on, as there’s the distinct danger of repeating himself and losing any freshness the concept had in the first place. A gripping opener, The Impossible Astronaut may not have won me over 100% in the way that The Eleventh Hour did, and much is going to depend on how Day of the Moon pans out (from the end-of-episode teaser, it certainly looks demented) – but Doctor Who is still a wildly inventive adventure, and one of the most unabashedly fun SF shows around.

The Verdict: Season 6 is go – and we’re already off to a head-spinning, complex start. Despite a few reservations, this is a strong opener, and if Moffatt can keep focus and not let things get too over-complicated, this could be a seriously impressive Who adventure. Now all we need is episode 2…

TV News: Farewell, Sarah Jane – A Tribute to Elisabeth Sladen (1948-2011)

Elisabeth Sladen Sarah Jane Smith Doctor Who Companion

I don’t like doing R.I.P./Memorial posts – because very often, even if famous/well-loved performers or actors have died, I don’t have much to say other than “Oh dear, that’s sad.” But news hit last night, on the 19th of April 2011, and frankly I’ve got to say something about this one, because this one feels terribly personal. It was bad enough when we recently lost Nicholas Courtney (the actor who portrayed Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), but now Elisabeth Sladen has died, aged only 63. She was the actress who played the tremendously popular assistant Sarah Jane Smith from 1973-1976 in the classic series of Doctor Who, and who ended up returning to the role more times than anyone (especially her) expected, going on to appear several times in the relaunched version of Who,  and getting her own children’s TV spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Of course, the question is – why? Why was Sarah Jane quite so popular and remembered as a Who companion? My Twitter feed over the last twelve hours has been a genuinely touching outpouring of disbelief, sadness, and a genuine affection for a performer who brought a serious amount of warmth and happiness into people’s lives – it’s a testament to how much impact Doctor Who has had, and it’s also a testament to exactly how bloody good Sladen was in the role.

Because, let’s be honest, when you’re looking at the classic series of Who, the companion is pretty often a fairly thankless role – they’re there to ask questions, get into danger, be kidnapped, undergo hypnosis, almost be sacrificed, and generally be an audience identification figure. There’s not much depth, and it’s up to the performer in question to actually make this slightly thin collection of ticks and story devices into a character the audience cares about.

There were few actresses in Classic Who who were as good at this as Elisabeth Sladen – Sarah Jane starts out in her first year (Jon Pertwee’s final season as the Third Doctor) as a deliberate ‘Women’s Lib’ character, a bolshy journalist who pokes her nose in places and willingly gets into trouble, but she soon settles down into a far less deliberately spiky character, and it’s in her first season with Tom Baker that she truly starts to shine. It’s partly because Sarah Jane is the prototype for what the companion would eventually become – she’s the point where the Doctor/companion relationship goes from one that had been largely parental in nature (especially with characters like Victoria and Jo Grant), to one that’s on a rather more equal footing, with the Doctor and companion as genuine friends. There are companions who followed who were even more capable, violent or intelligent than Sarah Jane, and one (Ace) who got a far more detailed emotional life than she ever did – but there’s something effortlessly likeable about Sladen in the role, coupled with the very obvious onscreen chemistry between her and Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. Sladen and Baker got on really well, and it truly shows in their stories – the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane are a pairing who are such fun to watch, it’s hard not to be charmed silly by their adventures (a fact that’s helped by Sladen’s run on the show being largely in the Phillip Hinchcliffe era, a hugely acclaimed run of stories which features few (if any) actual duds, and several stone-cold classics).

It was lovely seeing her return to the show in 2006’s ‘School Reunion’ (I’m not a huge fan of the episode, but Sladen’s work is sensational), and everything I’ve heard and seen of Sladen’s offscreen persona suggests that she was an impossibly lovely person to work with. It’s tremendously sad that she’s gone, and a piece of my childhood is gone tonight – but her work, and Sarah Jane, will live on as a part of Who’s imaginative and thoroughly British history.

R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen. You really will be missed.

Video: ‘E.T.:X’ (A fan trailer for an E.T. sequel)

Fan trailers. There’s a bewildering number of recut, manufactured or satirical trailers out there – from the original Internet sensation of The Shining recut to become a touching family drama about Jack Nicholson reconnecting with his new foster-son, to the determined Nathan Fillion fan who cut together a fictitious trailer casting the actor as the superhero Green Lantern (which, it has to be said, manages to be rather more exciting than the trailer for the genuine upcoming blockbuster). And now, via, I’ve found another – someone has created an extended (6-minute long) trailer for one sequel that’s thankfully never happened. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial has thankfully remained a standalone, but this entertainingly goofy video essentially imagines what would have happened if Steven Spielberg had handed the directorial duties over to Michael Bay. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s amazing how much of it works (especially the footage containing the grown-up Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore) – it’s daft and funny (even just for spotting exactly where all the movie footage comes from), and for anyone who actually watched E.T. first time around, it’s got occasional moments where it’s weirdly effective. Nonetheless, I’m still very glad that I don’t live in the parallel universe where ‘E.T.: X’ actually got made…

Novel Review: The Dancers at the End of Time

Author: Michael Moorcock ~ Pages: 672pp ~ Publisher: Gollancz ~ Year: 1981

The Dancers at the end of Time Michael Moorcock

[xrr rating=5/5]

The Low-Down: A magical, whimsical and beautifully written trilogy of eccentric science fiction from one of fantasy literature’s biggest names, this is also a time-travel romance that’s witty, well-crafted and ultimately moving.

What’s it About?: Far in the future, near the end of the universe, the remains of humanity lives an immortal, decadent and morality-free existance where anything is possible. But when Jherek Carnelian falls for accidental Victorian time-traveller Mrs Amelia Underwood, the resulting love affair takes them all across time, and into many kinds of bizarre dangers…

The Book: Warm, witty and hopelessly romantic, The Dancers at the End of Time is the omnibus edition of a trilogy of novels (An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands and The End of All Songs) written in the mid 1970s by massively prolific fantasy author and genre titan Michael Moorcock –  and it stands on the border between his more traditional sword-and-sorcery fantasy (the Elric, Hawkmoon and Corum novels), and his more challenging and literate work (The Cornelius and Pyat novels, as well as works like Mother London). Moorcock is one of those authors who can be intimidating simply due to how much he’s produced, but The Dancers of the End of Time is a very accessible starting point, especially since despite being a mixture of science fiction, romance and comedy, it’s mainly influenced by early twentieth century literature, especially the works of Oscar Wilde.

What Moorcock has produced here is a beautifully charming and ceaselessly imaginative romantic comedy, and the level of invention in the trilogy is amazing, conjuring up a colourful and surreal world at the End of Time and packing it with a lively selection of memorable and distinctive characters. It’s also thematically daring right from the start – this is a book where, thanks to the decadent ‘anything goes’ nature of the End of Time, the main character has sex with his own mother within the first three pages of the book, and while Moorcock has tremendous fun colliding his playful, morality-free world with the staunch and moralistic Victorian outlook, it isn’t just culture-clash comedy for its own sake. Instead, the love affair that blossoms between Jherek Carnelian and Mrs Amelia Underwood really does examine the nature of morality, and the craft and skill with which Moorcock explores this central idea is truly exceptional.

Mixing comedy with social satire and genuine romance, it’s a unique read that manages to be engaging throughout all three of its volumes, and it’s almost impossible not to be swept along by the trials and tribulations of the central relationship. It’s true that the longer and more melancholic concluding volume The End of All Songs doesn’t quite have the level of frothy comedy that Moorcock pulls off in An Alien Heat and The Hollow Lands, but it does tackle some daring science fictional territory, while still keeping the focus firmly on the characters, and the evolving relationship between the two protagonists. Back in the early twentieth century, books like The Time Machine would be described as ‘Scientific Romances’, and that’s exactly what The Dancers at the End of Time is – a magical and moving Scientific Romance that’s an incredibly distinctive work of literature, and the kind of off-beat yet moving saga that’s very easy to get lost in.

The Verdict: A tale of love, heartbreak and morality that stretches across the entire history of the universe, The Dancers at the End of Time is a quirky and utterly English tale of romance and entropy that simply demands to be read.

[amtap book:isbn=0575074760]

Movie News: The Unstoppable Craziness of Bollywood Sci-Fi Action Film “Enthiran”

There are some things in life that need to be seen to be believed – and quite obviously, upcoming Bollywood SF action blockbuster Enthiran is one of them. Found via (and tweeted by @jessnevins), words simply cannot describe the level of WTF insanity on display here, in a ten-minute clip that appears to be from a Russian dub of the original Indian dialogue. But trust me – you really don’t need the dialogue to enjoy the hell out of this kind of overblown ludicrousness. Strap yourselves in, and prepare for your jaw to hit the floor in sheer amazement at the fact that this film actually exists…

Movie Review – TRON: Legacy

YEAR: 2010 ~ CAST: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett ~ WRITERS: Edward Kitiss & Adam Horowitz ~ DIRECTOR: Joseph Kosinski

Tron Legacy PosterThe Backstory: In 1982, videogame designer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) tried to break into the system of his ex-employers ENCOM, but instead was transported into the world inside the computer – a realm of adventure and danger, where he fought against the Master Control Program with the help of a program named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner).

What’s it About?: Twenty years after Kevin Flynn vanished, his rebellious 27-year old son Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) follows a possible clue to his disappearence, and ends up inside another world. Flynn has created a self-contained digital universe – the Grid – but he’s been trapped inside it for twenty years by his alter ego, the program CLU, and now there’s very little time before the only escape route closes forever…

The Film: We are quite definitely living in strange times. The quest to re-sell and repackage the 1980s (whether it’s TV series or resurrected movies) over the last few years has been an exceptionally bizarre experience, but nothing so far has been quite so odd as Disney’s decision to do a massive-budget, 3-D blockbuster sequel to – of all things – Tron. The 1982 cult curio has built up a strong reputation thanks to its kooky story and the fantastically stylised early-CGI visuals (which, despite the technical limitations, seem to somehow get more stylish the older they get), but it was a box-office flop at the time, and nobody’s idea of a dead-cert for a major-league franchise revival.

That we’ve simply gotten a TRON sequel is strange and wonderful enough – but after watching the film in brain-scrambling IMAX 3D, I can’t help feeling that we’ve ended up with this generation’s version of the 1980s screen adaptation of Flash Gordon. That’s not exactly what Disney set out to acheive, admittedly, and it’s also true that TRON: Legacy isn’t anywhere near the campery or sheer unadulterated fun of Mike Hodges’ absurdly colourful 1982 spectacular (partly because the central concept of TRON is, to be honest, so wonderfully ridiculous that it does need to be taken very seriously in order to work).

TRON: Legacy is, however, the closest anyone’s come in a long time to the style of pulpy adventure films that were so common during the 1980s, managing to be thrilling in a way that isn’t quite the usual adrenaline rush that modern Hollywood specialises in. TRON: Legacy is absolutely an Adventure film, rather than an Action film – in the same way as Avatar, it’s all about the worldbuilding and the environment (with story and character coming a slightly weak second place), and both films also use a hefty dollop of classic Joseph Campbell-style storytelling in order to transport us to into their universes.

Tron Legacy Olivia WildeIt’s true that TRON: Legacy doesn’t manage this as succesfully as Avatar did (with one of that film’s true strengths being the fact that it is a deeply immersive spectacle), mainly thanks to some very clunky storytelling. It’s also true that Garret Hedlund largely falls into the same category as Flash Gordon’s Sam J. Jones in being a slightly engaging but mostly rather oaken lead actor. In fact, TRON: Legacy is packed full of problems, and frequently feels like it’s only a couple of scenes away from collapsing in on itself, while being as unlikely a franchise-starter as I’ve ever seen. The occasionally sluggish pacing combined with some very incoherent story choices don’t help in the slightest, and TRON: Legacy is certainly a long-way from being a top-notch blockbuster film.

And yet… it’s actually stuck with me a lot longer than Avatar did, and I’ve got the odd feeling that I actually prefer it, despite Cameron’s 3-D opus undoubtedly being the more polished and well-structured film. Much of this is that TRON: Legacy is such a tremendous visual spectacle, one that really needs to be viewed on the biggest screen available, while also being a film that does take us somewhere new, even if it’s just in terms of style and visuals. The way it expands and realises the world of TRON is never less than impressive – there’s a lush, faintly ludicrous and yet undeniably sexy style to the production design and costumes, a European comic-book visual sensibility that keeps the eye candy at a truly glorious level, from the head-whirling disc combat to the climactic air-battle. The look of the film is backed up with the sound – and again, as with Flash Gordon and its timelessly over-the-top Queen music, TRON: Legacy would be much weaker if it wasn’t for the sharp, driving and surprisingly powerful score from Daft Punk, a soundtrack that’s snapping at the heels of Hans Zimmer’s work on Inception for the ‘Best of 2010’ award.

Tron Legacy Jeff BridgesUltimately, what I really liked about TRON: Legacy is that it’s actually trying to tackle some  interesting philosophical questions about life, creation, freedom of information, and the kind of future the digital world offers us. Yes, it’s doing it in a frequently garbled and half-baked way, but the screenplay does a good job of mirroring certain aspects of the real world in the universe of the Grid, and the apparent ‘Hey kids- Piracy is cool!’ subtext in its first twenty minutes isn’t anywhere near as simplistic as it first appears. It’s true that much of the ‘meat’ of the film is thrown at the audience in a single massive flashback sequence, and there’s so much thematic material in the screenplay that I can’t help wishing screenwriters Edward Kitiss and Adam Horowitz could have managed another rewrite, or at least smoothed out some of the clumsier dialogue and exposition (especially in the extremely weak opening sequence, where Kevin Flynn explains the Grid to the 7-year-old Sam as a bedtime story).

However, for all its flaws – the occasionally hard-to-follow battle scenes, the overplayed one-liners, the fact that the CGI used to de-age Jeff Bridges to play CLU is still a few years from being consistently photorealistic – I’d still far rather see a film like TRON: Legacy aim high and fall short, than just getting another immersive yet unsurprising fantasy journey like Avatar, no matter how well-executed it is. A continuation of the saga seems deeply unlikely (and slightly frustrating, considering a couple of very deliberate flapping plot threads at the story’s climax), but despite all its flaws, there are kids out there whose minds will be blown by TRON: Legacy – and I can’t help feeling this is yet another slow-burning cult movie just waiting to happen.

The Verdict: Ignore any of the Star Wars prequel comparisons some negative reviews have thrown around– TRON: Legacy may be loaded with issues in its storytelling, pace and dialogue, but it’s also one of the strongest visual experiences to hit the screen in a long time, backed with the brilliant Daft Punk soundtrack, and a story that’s smarter than it first appears. Plus it’s got Olivia Wilde looking hot in a rubber catsuit, which simply can’t be a bad thing…

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

[amtap amazon:asin=B00467EKJU]

TV Review – Dirk Gently

Cast: Stephen Mangan, Helen Baxendale, Darren Boyd ~ Writer: Howard Overman
Director: Damon Thomas ~ Year: 2010

Dirk Gently

[xrr rating=2.5/5 imageset=red_star label=”Rating:”]

The Low-Down: Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams’s other bizarre creation is brought to the screen here in a brave but ultimately deeply flawed one-off drama, a pilot episode for a potential series of bizarre and whimsical sci-fi investigations.

What’s it about?: Eccentric detective Dirk Gently believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. He also believes in attempting to politely swindle old ladies out of money in order to track down their missing cats… but how is his latest runaway feline also connected with his old University friend Richard Macduff, a missing multi-millionaire, a time machine, and an exploding warehouse?

The Show: Douglas Adams is very much one of those ‘tricky to adapt’ authors. You only have to look at the movie version of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to see how things can go wrong, and while I can salute anyone with the bravery to take on the task of adapting the fantastically bizarre Dirk Gently’s Hollistic Detective Agency to the screen, at the end of this BBC4 drama (a pilot for a prospective series) Adams remains resolutely un-adaptable.

It’s partly his unique narrative voice. It’s partly the fact that his plots were almost always mad improvisation that could go off on abrupt tangents at a moments notice (and thus don’t fit into traditional narrative structure very well). And it’s partly the fact that Adams’ universe is (despite his wonderful, spritely and creative humour) a seriously dark place, where horrible things can happen out of nowhere, and fate regularly has the last laugh. Not the kind of world-view that’s easily plugged into a quirky detective saga, which probably explains why it’s almost completely absent from this 1-hour pilot episode.

Misfits writer Howard Overman is sensible in not attempting to do a straight adaptation of the original Dirk Gently novel (especially since the plot goes in some fantastically complex directions), and one of the most surprising things about this TV outing is how much of the original novel is present and correct. He’s retooled Dirk (Stephen Mangan) as a kind of free-wheeling, quantum mechanics-inclined version of Sherlock Holmes (with a remixed and far less capable version of novel character Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd) as his dim-witted Watson), and it’s easy to see this as a project that got comissioned in the wake of the success of this year’s modern-day reboot of Sherlock.

Overman pulls off some good lines, and there are a couple of very Adams-style bits of invention (especially the final fate of the cat Dirk is searching for), and he’s also oddly restrained in certain areas – Seargeant Gilks, a fantastically angry policeman and nemesis of Dirk, is so underplayed here as to be barely present. He also does his best to reformulate Adams’ twisty plot into an easier-to-follow story of second chances, while trying to set up Richard Macduff as a slightly dazed straight-man to Dirk’s off-the-wall insanity.

Dirk Gently 2Trouble is, if you take the darkness out of Adams, what you’re left with is a little too much of a sitcom (particularly with the scenes featuring Dirk’s elderly client), a wacky Holmes-style romp that features plenty of running around and comedy shouting, but is mainly built around a relationship – Richard and Susan (Helen Baxendale) – that we don’t care about, and don’t really believe for a second. Combine this with the fact that the ‘fundamental interconnectedness of all things’ turns out to be a shorthand for ‘hard-to-swallow coincidences’, and the plot ends up a fitfully entertaining but not exactly succesful comedy mystery that occasionally lurches into life, but too often comes to a juddering halt.

Pilot episodes are notoriously tricky, of course, and this wouldn’t be the first one to feature creaky storytelling. What sinks Dirk Gently – at least, as an adaptation of Adams’ work – is Dirk himself. Again, it’s no surprise, as Dirk is an emphatically odd character, a mass of contradictions who isn’t even the main protagonist of either of his novels, but the changes Overman makes give us a version of Dirk that’s oddly shaded and doesn’t really work. Dirk is portrayed here as a smarmy, over-confidant but occasionally brilliant trickster, and Mangan isn’t always capable of pulling off the weird cadances of Adams’ dialogue (he’s mostly better with lines that aren’t directly from the book).

Admittedly, the original character is quite definitely a con-artist – but he’s also a notoriously bad one. Most of his attempts backfire in bizarre ways (like the college exam papers he faked as a clairvoyancy scam at University that turned out to be, word-for-word, exactly the same as the papers that were set), as if the universe is constantly preventing him from getting away with it – and it’s also strongly insinuated that he’s rarely been capable of getting any of his clients to actually pay any of his outrageous bills.

Overman skips most of this, making the confidence trickster side more overt, but Dirk stops being quite so interesting, and becomes a lot harder to sympathise with. He isn’t the mercurial figure in the books – he’s just a fast-talking con artist who occasionally gets lucky. It doesn’t help that Mangan isn’t the most likeable of leads, and ending the pilot episode with Dirk using hypnotism to swindle Richard of 20,000 quid for a holiday in the Bahamas doesn’t do anything to change that.

Add in some awkwardshifts in tone, intermittent physical comedy and a general sense of inconsequentiality, and the end result is one of those loose adaptations that has its fun moments, but on the whole doesn’t get anywhere near the odd energy of the original work. It’s always possible that there may be a series – and that Overman may be able to develop this world in some interesting and stronger directions – but going by this opening outing, I’d be very surprised…

Verdict: It’s a step up from the truly dreadful Radio 4 adaptation (which starred Harry Enfield as Dirk), but a few funny lines and a smattering of inventively off-beat sci-fi strangeness does not a series make. Combine that with a miscast lead actor and this oddball confection never gets its act together for long enough to live up to its intimdating (and far superior) source material.

[amtap book:isbn=0330301624]