Monday, November 26, 2012

The Tape Traders: Those Were The Days!

In 2010 we saw the release of the Cybermen Box Set that included both Revenge of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis. One of the specials that I was really looking forward to was an extra produced and directed by Ed Stradling called Cheques, Lies and Videotape. This feature focused on how fans had to seek out hard-to-find Doctor Who episodes at a time when old episodes were not shown in the UK nor were episodes available on video to purchase. Fans had to find other ways to meet their needs and soon an underground movement began where fans could get videos via the pirate video circuit but in some cases they would have to pay for it. I really found this an interesting subject because you see, I was doing the same thing but in the US. In the late 1980s, I became a tape-trader.

I look at my article as an unofficial addendum to Ed Stradling’s superb documentary except from a US perspective. I actually think the US angle is a little more interesting but I understand for a multitude of reasons why this angle was not pursued in the actual documentary. Ever since that documentary came out, I wanted to tell my story as for myself it became a hobby and a way to meet people from all around the US as well as Canada, Australia and of course the UK. I took tape-trading very seriously and in my journey I found that I was not the only one. Once you are finished reading both parts to this article, you may think I took it way to seriously.
I consider this my sister article to the one I did last year about missing episodes titled Missing You! My Experience with the Missing Episodes of Doctor Who. That was a reflection of my own thoughts and theories about the missing episodes of Doctor Who. I apologise upfront for this article because I know it will come across as self-indulgent, possibly very smug and probably dry. There will be a tiny group of people who will appreciate this article as they lived it in the 1980s as I did. My only regret is that I started my tape-trading later than a lot of other people. It was a fun time. Tape-trading is simple. You have something that someone else wants on VHS and you arrange a trade for it. This trade would take the shape of blank tapes or trading for some program that maybe I would want. Obviously money could be a part of it but that is not tape-trading but selling. I am not going to go into the ethics of copyright or the rights and wrongs of doing this. Trading tapes as I did, there is no excuse for trading copyrighted materials and I know that. I cannot defend myself for doing it. If that is something you morally/ethically object to, it is probably best to read no further.

Throughout this article, please click on Youtube links to see the poor quality we put up with. Here is my original camera copy for The Wheel in Space Episode 3

As I mentioned before, I started watching Doctor Who in the mid-1980s on the public television station KTCA. It was shown in movie version and we generally got the Tom Baker and Peter Davison stories. In 1985 we got the Jon Pertwee package of episodes. To this point, we were still seeing all the stories in full (albeit without Planet of the Daleks: Episode Three and Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One) but some of the stories were in black & white. In 1986, we started to get the Hartnell and Troughton stories which was when we started to see that not all the episodes existed. To be honest, at my young age I didn’t realize that the stories were episodic. I know I sound pathetically naïve but I never really collected anything that would tell me otherwise. So, if KTCA didn’t show The Reign of Terror, I had no idea any of the episodes existed, I thought they were all gone. Eventually I realised that a story was made up from anywhere of 2-6 episodes (or more) thanks to Jean Marc Lofficier’s Program Guide. Still, what I saw on KTCA is all I thought existed for Doctor Who. In July of 1988, my mind would be blown.
I dipped my toe into the fandom pool in 1988 as I decided to go to my first 3-day Doctor Who convention called Time Festival. I had been a member of a local Doctor Who fan club called The Whoniversity since 1986. I saw The Whoniversity was heavily involved with Time Festival and I really wanted to go. It was a hugely magical time for me as the idea of getting together with like-minded people getting together to talk about Doctor Who was appealing. Like many young fans that get into the series, going to the first event where you can speak openly about your love of Doctor Who, I probably was overly enthusiastic. Everything was new to me. The idea of people dressing in costumes, props, seeing Jon Pertwee, Fraser Hines and Janet Fielding, and so much more. Weird things such as an Eric Hoffman panel titled, A Twisted Garden of Pertwee or something like that. I also thought about going to a panel about the Peter Davison era but I went to the room only to find a couple sitting in the corner making out. It was after seeing that panel was going nowhere, at least for me, I walked past the video room. I poked my head in to see Miss Hawthorne be rescued by Sgt. Benton. Obviously it was The Dæmons. I had seen it a few times on KTCA but it was different this time. It was in color. For whatever reason, I didn’t stick around. My problem at conventions and still to this day is that I can’t stay in one place. I have to wander so I can meet people but I knew I needed to keep my eye on that video room. Going back to it later, I saw Shada. WTF! I knew that parts of it existed but this was put together in an episodic format. Finally, on Sunday morning I stopped in to see the final moments of something I wanted to see for many, many years. The final moments of The Tenth Planet Episode 3. For some reason seeing The Dæmons or even Shada didn’t faze me but seeing The Tenth Planet told me two things: 1.) More orphan episodes are available than I ever thought and 2.) I can get my hands on these. Suddenly, everything changed.

A shot from the NTSC recording of The Dæmons.
After Time Festival, The Whoniversity organizationally changed. I went to one of their meetings in a park and I made it very known that I was looking for these orphaned episodes or anything new. It’s funny because on reflection, I hate people like that and I have dealt with many of them over the years. One of the guys there who would go on to be one of my greatest friends Roger offered me a copy of Season 24. It hadn’t aired over here yet so it was pretty cool. There was one guy in town that was getting all the cool video stuff. He had the rare episodes and he was getting all the new stuff from people he knew. It was still a few generations down from the originals but he was the only one getting this stuff. The problem was is that he generally wouldn’t trade unless you had something he wanted. A bad habit I eventually picked up. He was getting new stuff from other people all the time in the US. Ultimately, I don’t think he was too far off from the man who was selling videos in Cheques, Lies and Videotape. My “friend’ was getting out of the Doctor Who fandom thing and was selling off his collection. The Whoniversity made a deal with him. They would put ads in the newsletter for free so he could sell his stuff if he provided videos for the Whoniversity parties. The first party was at the Lowry library in November of 1988 and we showed Remembrance of the Daleks. It was success and the quality of the video wasn’t that bad. At that party, someone who I never met before was kind enough to lend me his tapes of all the orphan episodes of the 1960s. He didn’t know me but another friend vouched for me. I was so happy to have this stuff; it was Doctor Who I had never seen before and opened my mind to what was available. Not only did I see all of these episodes I never thought I would see because they weren’t on KTCA but I also saw for the first time the unaired pilot. I had no idea that existed! That night, after the Whoniversity party which in itself was a whirl-wind of excitement, I got home and watched in my basement The Invasion. I couldn’t believe it but why was the picture flickering?

The first thing I ever got before it aired on KTCA, Paradise Towers. But at what cost?

Being naïve, I figured that a videotape in the US is the same as a videotape in the UK. I assumed if they sent us something, we could play it. I guess more accurately, it never crossed my mind that there were 2 different broadcast systems which were NTSC and PAL. There were two ways of getting episodes over here in the US at that time, converting episodes from PAL to NTSC or making a camera copy. A camera copy is what it sounds like. Someone, whether it is in the UK or the US, has the PAL tape with the episode playing it from a PAL TV at which point someone with an NTSC camcorder (at the time analogue) would point it at the screen and record it. Because the frame rates were different between the PAL tapes and the NTSC camera the recording would have a flicker to it. The flicker is profound. It hurts after a while. That’s what all these episodes were; camera copies. Not only were they camera copies but multiple generations from the original recording. It could have been worse than that. The tapes that were used as the source of the camera copies could have been down multiple generations before any camera was even pointed at it. On top of that, the camera copies were many generations down too. Please do not think me ungrateful. I still have these tapes today. They mean everything to me. Why did someone not just make a conversion of the PAL tape to an NTSC tape? It was extraordinarily expensive to do. There were people who had the equipment but that was the challenge; the challenge was for me to get copies of these episodes as converted versions and not camera copies. Unfortunately, I am hugely competitive with stuff. Remember my “friend” who had a ton of stuff but didn’t share very often, in a way I wanted to be him.

In this video, one of the flickering blobs is actually William Hartnell! Ah camera copies!

When I say be like him, I meant more in a collector sort of way. I wanted to have a collection of videos. I wanted to watch stuff that wasn’t readily available. What I didn’t want was the ethics of my “friend”. I wanted to collect Doctor Who episodically but in the Twin Cities only movie version was being shown. My “friend” (this is the loosest possible definition of the word) told me he knew someone who had all the stories in episodic format. My “friend” was kind enough to offer up being an intermediary between myself and this other person. My “friend” told me this other person was pretty reasonable with his pricing and would charge only about $12/tape but I would need to go through my “friend” to get the super price. Even at 14 I knew this was crap and I was eventually connected with this guy who had the episodic stories and spoke to him myself. Unlike my “friend” who I don’t dare name and who was not actually a friend, this guy who had the episodic stories became a friend and someone who I still call a friend to this day. His name is Mike. Mike took pity on this poor 14 year old kid who wanted not only the stories episodically but wanted them in SP. Mike’s collection was in EP (or back in those days SLP). This meant that Mike had to do extra work to make sure that all the right episodes were on the right tapes. This was a colossal undertaking. I appreciated it at the time but I doubt I appreciated the effort that was put into it. I always got the feeling that his collection was my collection. Nothing was out of bounds to be requested. If I wanted a copy of his Shada, he would always be kind of enough to make a copy of his Shada. His philosophy was to share and I will admit that I don’t always follow that rule but with reasons I will go into later. I was able to get many of the orphaned (or as we called it back then “archive”) episodes from him converted i.e. not a camera copy. In MN, both Mike another mutual friend Peter really helped me out when I got into tape trading. They both have been incredibly kind with their collections to get me started out. Thank you both! I know Mike will be reading this. Thank you Mike!
I don’t know about anyone who was into tape trading back in the day but for me the type of tape and how the label looked were extremely important to me. I think because of my friends back in the day, the tape of choice for me was always the black box Scotch tape. I was so particular about it. After all, I figured that I would never replace these tapes with any other kind of media so I better get it right. Someone once gave me a couple of their tapes of off-air episodes of the Nickelodeon re-runs for The Tomorrow People. The labels were done on a typewriter. I fell in love with the idea especially as my own handwriting is atrocious. It made these things look professional. Anyone who ever made copies of stuff for me knows that when I provided tapes, there was always a typewritten (or later printed label) on them. I probably took all of this a little too seriously? Plus on top of that, I never trusted a T-160 thinking that tape on them was too thin. So I broke up all of the 6 or 7 part stories over 2 T-120s. I remember when I gave tapes to Mike to record all of season 1 episodically for me, my mom bought me a 10 pack of Scotch tapes and I couldn’t get over the excitement of opening these tapes and preparing the labels. The Scotch tapes had this aroma when you took off the cellophane wrapper. It was marvelous! I gave all of these tapes to Mike at Polaris Con in 1989 and the poor guy had to take them all back to Sartel to dub for me! Plus, he never, ever charged shipping to send them back to me!

This poor clip has nothing going for it. Blurry, hissy and even unfinished. SHADA!!!!

From the master tape of the original Ian
Levine Shada
Mike was kind enough to bring me stuff that I was showing in the Whoniversity video room that weekend. One item that was insanely popular was Shada. This was the Ian Levine version that had the text for the scenes that didn’t exist. We publicized at the convention we were going to show it. We probably had about 30 to 40 people in the hotel room we showed it in. It was crazy and a lot of fun to watch as people enjoyed seeing something they never seen before. It was at this convention I started to meet other people from places other than MN to get copies of stuff. It was here that I met someone by the name of Gordon from Chicago. I don’t remember his last name but he had an incredible collection of material. He was the first person I ever ran into that actually had his collection in PAL even though he lived in the US. He sent me his list. This was where I knew I needed to make a list of my growing collection. I realized quickly that you needed that so people could easily see what you have. What may not be a big deal to you and you would never mention could be a huge deal to someone else. Gordon’s list was nothing but series after series of British programs I had only heard of and never seen. It was an epiphany! Wonderful programs like Survivors, Doomwatch, Blake’s 7, and so much more. Did he live in the BBC archive? He had everything! This was pre-UK Gold and all of these were in PAL. It would list the format and the quality and everything is basically excellent quality. Gordon helped me out a lot. In the past I got Season 24 as a very ropey 8th gen copy. Season 25 came from my “friend” it was better than the quality of Season 24. Gordon was getting off-air copies of Season 26 from the UK. The tapes would be sent from the UK to Chicago. He would make a conversion of the stories and send them to me. For example, I got Battlefield less than a week after Part Four aired. Now a days it seems like a long time but anyone who was around during this period knows this was amazing. We would show these at the Whoniversity parties and the quality was better than anything we ever saw before. Gordon was very kind with the new stuff. He was more difficult with the rarer stuff. I remember calling him up and asked him if I could get a copy of something from him. I will never forget his reaction. His voice was very leery of me as he asked what I wanted. When I told him I would like copies of Season 22 from him in the original 45 minute episode format, he was relieved. He thought that I was going to ask for some of the orphaned episodes that were hard to get in good quality and he had all of them in amazing quality. He told me how hard he worked to get contacts that would give him high quality episodes so he was very careful who he gave copies too. I appreciated this and never forgot it either as eventually I saw his point. I sent him some tapes for The Two Doctors. Because I was so anal about the Scotch tapes and having anything longer than 120 minutes for episodes to be put on, I got even more obsessive. I wrote 3M, who made Scotch tapes, and bought T-60s from them. One of them I used to put Part One of The Two Doctors on so I could put the other 2 episodes on a T-120. I know it is really obsessive. I am sure Gordon had enough of me as after I sent him the tapes, I never heard from him again.
A page from Gordon's amazing list from 1989
VHS tape I bought at Visions
In my youth, I travelled to conventions all around the country with other friends from the Whoniversity. We met a ton of people and I met a lot more people who were into trading videos like me. A great place to meet people who were into trading was at Visions in Chicago.  There I met people from New Mexico, LA, Michigan, Orlando, and the UK. Often the Whoniversity would do video rooms at these conventions which I would program so people would come up to me and we would do trades. Sometimes I would actually buy a tape to see if it was better quality than what I had. My sole mission has always been (and still is) to get episodes at the best quality. That is a point of tape-trading is to continually upgrade the quality of what you have.  I will not be happy until I have episodes that are the same quality of the master tape. At Visions one year, I bought in the dealers room a VHS, Doctor Who: Lost Episodes & Rare Clips Reel Vol.1. It had a lot of stuff on it including the :30 clip of Galaxy 4: Four Hundred Dawns and the colour clip to The Mind of Evil Episode 6. It looked great. Probably the oddest buying venture for me was an ad I received for a place out of Chicago called Brit TV. They had a huge amount of material that they were selling $20/tape. I got on the phone with them and asked about the quality which they said was the best I will find anywhere. I asked them if the BBC knew they were selling these tapes. Their response was surprisingly yes! The BBC were trying out a new sales model of selling these episodes and they gave permission to Brit TV to sell the incomplete stories of Doctor Who. Now at that point, episodes being released on BBC video did not include any incomplete stories so it was feasible but even at 16, I wasn’t completely stupid, just mostly stupid. Even I knew that the BBC would never do something like that but the lure of getting better quality episodes were too much for me. I always wanted to have the best so I bought a copy of The Reign of Terror episodes 1,2,3,6. At that time Episodes 1,2,3 looked horrible no matter who you got it from but I got my tape and my jaw dropped. It was the best I had ever seen of these episodes!  Perhaps, just a coincidence that the type of converter used on these episodes looked very much like the type my friend Gordon (from Chicago) used. I didn’t buy anything else from them because I knew this could get very expensive very fast for something that wasn’t official. I knew I could find people I could trade with that I could get the best quality episodes out there. Soon, I would be right.

A burnt-in timecode wasn't the issue with this gem!

Next week: The second part of my article. As the Internet became accessible to more people, would that help or hurt your intrepid tape-trader? Why could someone be lucky working for a FOX affiliate in 1996? Why do I love Slates (aka VT Clocks) so much and can tape-trading strain friendships? If you have questions about my time tape-trading, let me know!
Don't forget: I am giving away 2 copies of each Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos Special Edition and Doctor Who Series 7 Part One. Both R1 DVD courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment. To enter for your chance to win, please check this out: Doctor Who DVD Giveaway!

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I now have a regular column on DVDTalk called Brit-Streaming. Please check it out here: Brit-Streaming.

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

No Colour for Steptoe and Son

I know I make pleas about series that I think people should check out. Often at the end of an article, I note that this is a series that is particularly good and suggest people to seek it out. I am not going to end this article that way; I am going to start out this way. Steptoe and Son is beyond exceptional. Written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson this series was a triumph for situation comedy. Generally, comedies at the BBC at that time employed comedians to be in these programs. For example, Tony Hancock was a known comedian when Galton & Simpson wrote Hancock’s Half Hour for him. When it came time for them to do Steptoe and Son, they cast two actors who were not comedians. Instead, they felt that the comedy came from the situation and the reaction of the cast in these situations. The results were hilarious but also there was drama and as I loathe to say it, pathos. I cover the first two episodes of Steptoe and Son here. It is about a father and son business. They are rag and bone men. They go out and get stuff that no one wants and sell it from their yard. The problem is that the younger Harold Steptoe is in his 30s and desperately wants to leave home to make a fresh start with his life. Meanwhile, his father Albert doesn’t want Harold to leave and in fact will try to sabotage any attempt to leave.

On the surface it is quite funny. In fact, it is hilarious. The situations they get themselves into, the names they call each other or the way they try to sabotage each other is quite funny. They are actually quite competitive with each other too which brings out a lot of hilarious situations. The problem is that deep down, the series is actually kind of dark. In one episode Harold is sleepwalking with a knife and tries to kill Albert; he is also seen choking Albert one many occasions when Harold has had enough. It is also sad. Harold thinks himself as a higher class than what life has dealt him yet he gets no breaks. One of many examples is in the episode A Star Is Born, Harold has a chance to be a star in a local play. The problem is that Harold isn’t exactly very good at it. By chance Albert is able to perform in the play too and he is a natural. No one pays attention Harold and all of the excitement of the success of the play goes to Albert. The episode ends with Harold going home basically disgraced by his father. It’s funny yet really sad at the same time. You can’t help but feel sad for Harold. The two episodes I looked at this week are not quite so vicious and in fact the first one is actually kind of sad and shows the close bond the two have for eachother.
Two’s Company TX: 16/11/70

The two episodes I looked at this week come from the 6th series. The episode begins with Albert extremely happy because he is in love. His first wife, Harold’s mum, died many years ago and he is has been on his own ever since. He met a woman at the Darby & Joan club. Albert is out late, it is quarter pass 12 in the morning and Harold is starting to get concerned. Albert gets into the house and after some questioning from Harold, Albert tells Harold that he met a woman by the name of Mrs. Goodlace months ago, fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. She accepted!
Of course Harold is a little unsure of what to make of all this. What is really nice about the episode is that Albert is really sweet in these scenes between Harold and him. Albert often is very rough around the edges and you never know if he is being sincere but here he is being very honest. He is honest about his feelings for Mrs. Goodlace and is also honest about how he is hoping Harold takes the news. It had been a while since I had seen the episode so I was kind of expecting Harold to explode but he didn’t. As usual, he ribbed his father but ultimately was very supportive. They decided to have her over the next day so Harold could meet her.

The next day arrives and Albert is so nervous. He asks Harold multiple times how he looks and is just all jittery. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door. She has arrived! Albert goes to the door to bring her in. In a fantastic moment in the episode, Mrs. Goodlace and Harold look at each other. The camera has a close up of each of them and it is clear that they know each other. Mrs. Goodlace and Albert are only going to stay for a few minutes as they have dinner plans that night. As Albert goes on and on about how happy he is and how happy he is going to make Mrs. Goodlace, he needs to leave the room to get the minicab to come by and pick them up.
After he leaves the room, the two of them stare at each other, both get up at the same time get nearer to each other and start kissing each other. The two had been lovers before. They were together while Harold had to go into National Service. Harold sent her many letters but apparently her mom intercepted them and threw them out. A female version of Albert for sure! In fact, Mrs. Goodlace was someone who Harold was very serious about and never forgot her.Tthat feeling was reciprocated by her. The one thing I wondered about immediately was why she didn’t realise that Albert’s surname matched that of Harold’s? Harold didn’t like his name Steptoe and used Faversham. Albert comes back to the room beaming at Mrs. Goodlace and continues to talk about how happy he is. He even comments to Harold how much he would like Harold to get married. He thinks Harold should find somebody and they could possibly have a double wedding. Harold needs to let his father know what is going on and he breaks the somber news:

Harold: “Daphne and I are lovers”
Albert: "but she’s only been here 10 minutes".
It’s kind of dark that a series would have a story that a father and son who are so different would have a relationship with the same woman of course at different times. The tide changes in the room. As Albert is reeling from the shock of the news, Harold starts talking about marrying Mrs. Goodlace. Albert is deeply upset by this and talks about moving out. Harold is trying to cheer him up and both of them are going back and forth. While all of that is going on, Mrs. Goodlace sees what is going on and quietly leaves. As soon as they realise she is gone, Albert and Harold go after her only to find she has left a note basically saying she wouldn’t want to split them up because they are already married. Albert and Harold are shocked. To cheer themselves up, they decide to go to dinner at the fancy restaurant that Albert was going to take her to eat. As they are leaving, they are taking care of each other, fixing each other’s tie and Harold making a fuss to make sure Albert was wrapped up to go out in the cold. Yet, neither of them could figure out what she meant by both of them already being married.

As I mentioned earlier, both Harold and Albert were very kind to each other as they deal with each other’s feelings about what is going on with Mrs. Goodlace. It’s very funny and what makes this series always good is that there is always a minimal cast. Sometimes it’s just Harold and Albert. These episodes are like plays and Harry H. Corbett as Harold and Wilfrid Brambell as Albert can easily carry the series just between the two of them. In fact when it’s just them the episodes are mainly them arguing but when there are other characters in the episode, it seems like a lot of times they get along and they are defending themselves or supporting themselves against these other people.
Tea for Two TX: 23/11/70

This is an episode you have to have a little understanding of what was going on at the time. There is a fierce political battle going on in Oil Drum Lane (where the Steptoe’s live). Harold is the branch secretary for the local Labour party. There is precedent for Harold to be involved with politics as we seen him heavily involved in the Series 4 episode My Old Man is A Tory. Now, Albert hardly ever gets involved with such things but this time he has as he is supporting the Tory party which at the time had a Prime Minister in office. Both of them are doing work to further their political party’s chances of winning. Unfortunately, neither of them plays fair. Harold defaces a poster of the Prime Minister that Albert put up outside their house. Albert switches the mailers of their respective party’s so Harold is actually delivering Tory information to everyone on their street.
One thing I enjoy about the series is how Albert is able to get Harold off his high horse. Harold thinks he is a more enlightened thinker than his father so when they actually get into a debate, his father usually sets him straight. For example, a discussion of the different races on their street comes up. Harold accuses Albert and the Tory party of not looking at people of different races as equals. Albert prods Harold about it only for Harold to answer questions which makes him sound exactly the way he is accusing Albert of being. It is pretty funny as it does knock Harold down a couple of pegs.

While Harold is out, members of the Tory party come by to let Albert know that the new Prime Minister Ted Heath, while touring the neighborhood, would like to come by for tea at Albert’s home. Albert sees this as quite the honour while the Tory representatives see it as a wonderful press opportunity especially as the place is so rundown. It’s like the Prime Minister meeting the poor people in his country. Albert goes all out and gets in a ton of food. Harold comes home to find out what is happening. Of course Harold isn’t too thrilled especially as the head of the Tory government is going to have tea at the home of the branch secretary for the local Labour party. Always the thinker, Harold has a plan. He knows that when the Prime Minister gets to their home, there will be a ton of press and photographers. Harold will make sure that when the Prime Minister is there Harold will be walking around completely nude. It will be amazing! Unfortunately, the Prime Minister will not be able to make it. Albert is saved from the embarrassment from his son prancing around in the nude. Unfortunately for one of the Prime Minister’s men, there was one more surprise waiting compliments of Harold. Not only was Harold planning on being nude, he concocted other booby traps for the Prime Minister. As this guy uses the loo outside in the yard, a bucket of paint falls on him.
Steptoe and Son started out in 1962 and ran for 4 series in black & white. It took a hiatus and returned in 1970 with Series 5 in colour. As I mentioned above, these two episodes I watched are from Series 6. If you look at the pics in this article, you will notice that they are in black & white. Why is that?

It wouldn’t be a BBC series from the 1960s or early 1970s if episodes weren’t missing. As standard at the time, the 1970s episodes of Steptoe and Son were recorded on 2” colour videotape. The colour episodes from Series 5 and 6 were destroyed with only 2 episodes of the 15 from that period still existing in colour. Now, this is where it becomes interesting. Unlike something like the colour Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who, there were no black & white film telerecordings in existence. Basically, these episodes did not exist in any form.
Image from
For years fans thought that these episodes were gone but something extraordinary was discovered. It was discovered that Ray Galton got one of the BBC engineers to record the entire run of Steptoe and Son for him from the master tapes onto Shibaden SV-700 half-inch reel-to-reel black & white videotape. VCRs are reel to reel in a sense but both reels are housed in a cassette but the Shibaden are open reel to reel video, similar to the reel to reel audio tapes. This find was a triumph! It returned these episodes that didn’t exist. The only problem is that the quality is not great. These are 405 line videos that are fuzzy old looking recordings. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as having these episodes completed the run of Steptoe and Son episodes in the BBC Archives. Not only did Ray Galton have the episodes that didn’t exist from Series 5 & Series 6 but they also got a recording of the Series 4 episode My Old Man is a Tory from Series 4. The BBC were so happy to get these episodes back that they ran a season of repeats on BBC2 in the 1990s that showed these missing episodes from Series 5 & 6. I remember a friend from the UK sending me these episodes and it was so good to see these. At the end of the episodes, a little card came up thanking the Steptoe and Son Appreciation Society for these archive recordings. These episodes were released on DVD in the UK and still have those title cards at the end of the episodes. In 2008, a black & white telerecording did turn up of one of the colour Steptoe and Son episodes. It was the first reel of A Winter’s Tale. One reel would be about 15 minutes. It would be interesting to know if the film print has chroma dots and if any kind of colour information could be sourced from it even though it is a partial print. As for the videos that Ray Galton have in black & white of the colour episodes, there is no hope for colour recovery from those recordings. The tape would not have any chroma dots since it would have recording strictly to black & white, that machine would not have recorded colour. Those recording will stay black & white.

As I go on about how wonderful this series is, if you are in the US it may not be as easy to see it. Back in the day when BFS would release VHS tapes of British television series, Steptoe and Son was one of the series. It was only some of the colour episodes but still some is better nothing. Unfortunately, none of the DVDs made it to the US so if you want to enjoy one of the best comedy series made and you are in the US, you will need to import the British PAL set and watch it on a Region Free DVD player. After all, that’s what I did and I have never regretted it.

Don't forget: I am giving away 2 copies of each Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos Special Edition and Doctor Who Series 7 Part One. Both R1 DVD courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment. To enter for your chance to win, please check this out: Doctor Who DVD Giveaway!

Next week: To celebrate Doctor Who’s 49th Anniversary, I thought I would look at one of my favourite parts of fandom which became a lifelong hobby: videotape trading. What is it? Why did I do it? Take a look next week and find out!
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I now have a regular column on DVDTalk called Brit-Streaming. Please check it out here: Brit-Streaming.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Doctor Who DVD Giveaway!!

From the Archive wants to celebrate the 49th anniversary Doctor Who this month by doing it’s very first giveaway. Courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment From the Archive will be giving away 2 copies each of The Claws of Axos Special Edition and Doctor Who Series 7 Part 1 on DVD. To be entered to win, all you have to do is send in an e-mail with the answers to these two questions:

Claws of Axos Question:
What is the name of the American Intelligence Agent who is trapped with the Master on board the Axon ship?
Doctor Who Series 7 Part 1 Question:
What is the name of the apartment block that the Angel’s used as their battery farm in New York City?
Answer the question of the story you want your name entered to win; feel free to answer both questions. Send answers to by 11/30/12. Winners will be announced on 12/3/12. Contest only open to residents of the United States. DVDs are Region 1.

Oh, while you are here, why don't you check out some of my articles and come back often.

There will also be a third set of DVDs to win through The Omega Podcast but you will have to listen to episode 90 (posted 11/17) for a chance to win!
Thank you to BBC Home Entertainment for these wonderful prizes!  

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at
I now have a regular column on DVDTalk called Brit-Streaming. Please check it out here: Brit-Streaming.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bond @ 50: Quantum of Solace

Over the years, James Bond has needed to stop maniacs from controlling many resources. These range from diamond smuggling, gold, oil, and cocaine. Who would ever think that there would be such a commodity worth controlling such as water? When the film franchise started in 1962, natural resources, like oil, were in abundance but we knew that there is always a limited resource. I doubt any one would think water could fall into this category. Now, don’t get excited I am not saying that we are running out of water but as so much of the world is focused on oil and other natural resources, someone else was focusing on controlling water and we meet this person in Quantum of Solace.

Quantum of Solace takes its title from a short story of the same name written by Ian Fleming and published as part of the book For Your Eyes Only in 1960.  After the success of Casino Royale in 2006, it would be an understatement to say that I was really looking forward to the follow up film. For the first time in the franchise history, this Bond would be a direct sequel. This would tie directly into the themes and plot from Casino Royale. It was a very exciting time to be a Bond fan. My favorite film franchise was getting a revamp and it was the second installment of the new era. Was it going to be as good?
In my humble opinion, the answer is no. It couldn’t be. As I mentioned last week, Casino Royale was a triumph. I think it would be very hard to top that film. Re-watching it again to write this article, it is not a bad film at all but it is flawed. Once again, I remember sitting in the theatre and being slightly disappointed there was no gun barrel sequence at the beginning of the film. What we do get is an incredible car chase through Largo di Garda. At first, we don’t know why Bond is being chased but the car chase itself is brutal. People are firing on Bond just before they make devastating crashes into the side of the mountain or other vehicles. It is seriously action packed. The problem is that director Marc Forster shoots the action so close that it is nearly impossible to figure out what is going on. There are moments that I truly think that Bond’s car ploughed into someone else but that isn’t the case. I find this type of film making to be difficult to watch. I do not enjoy it. My guess is that the point is to try and make you feel like you are actually in the action. This happens in fight sequences at the beginning of the film too. Why does everyone want to be immersed into the action? Am I the only who just wants to watch it and not necessarily be in it? That is why I am not a big fan of 3D, I just want to watch it; I don’t want it around me. The whole chase scene ends for us to find that in the trunk of Bond’s car is Mr. White. Remember at the end of Casino Royale when Bond shot Mr. White? This is a continuation of that.

After all of that is figured out, we move onto the opening credits. For the first time since GoldenEye, Daniel Kleinman did not do the opening credits. This bothered me as I adored his work. He is back for Skyfall. MK12 did the opening graphics for Quantum of Solace. They are different yet I think they are pretty good. I like how the titles on the credits some time mimic the dots that go across the screen for the gun barrel sequence. There is a part where the women in the opening sequence start to spin around like a zoetrope. It is done very well and looks super cool. It would be easy for me to not like these credits because they are different but the truth is that they are pretty good. Now the theme music is a little different. The theme song is called “Another Way to Die” sung (for lack of a better word) by Jack White and Alicia Keys. It sounds like they were making it up as they went along. It just doesn’t sound good to me. I think it works better on the opening credits than it does as a song on its own. I also think this song suffers the way some other Bond songs suffer. In my opinion, I don’t think a Bond song should make reference to the clichés of the franchise. An example of this is Sheryl Crow in “Tomorrow Never Dies”:
Darlin' you've won
It's no fun
Martinis, girls, and guns
It's matter on our love affair
But you bet your life every night
While your chasing them on the knife
Your not the only spy out there

Martinis, girls and guns is the cliché of the franchise and to me pretty cringeworthy. In “Another Way to Die” the song starts out:
Another ringer with the slick trigger finger for Her Majesty
Another one with the golden tongue poisoning your fantasy
Another bill from a killer, turned a thriller to a tragedy
Now, this shouldn’t be confused with something like Goldfinger which is indulging into the villain. I personally have no problem with that.
As I mentioned above, one of the things that really bothers me about this film are the fight sequences. They are shot very close to the people who are in it. It’s hard to see who is punching who and makes for a very confusing scene. Now, I was starting to think I was an old fuddy duddy until I heard other people making the same complaint. Leading to the first fight sequence is the interrogation of Mr. White. M and some of her people are in attendance. There is a really cool part of this film and that is that Mr. White is part of a larger organization. They are called Quantum. It is kind of cool with what they do; I don’t see them as a straight criminal organization. Now being in the 21st century the organization may be involved with dictators or ecological manipulation or amassing wealth and power.  Quantum has apparently been around for some time. The problem is that no one knows they exist or that members of Quantum have even infiltrated the British Secret Service.

Now, Quantum isn’t too far off from SPECTRE, the organization that plagued Bond in many of the 1960s films. Once again, it is important to bring up Kevin McClory. Remember, he and Ian Fleming came up with Thunderball to be adapted to film. SPECTRE was a creation between the two of them. After things blew up between McClory and Fleming, McClory got the film rights to Thunderball where Fleming got the literary rights. I was thinking about this the other day. It is a shame that McClory, Broccoli and Saltzman could not find common ground. McClory worked on Thunderball but never for Eon again. I don’t think him working on the films would have been a bad thing yet because there was no compromise he kept showing up at regular basis up into the early 21st century trying to re-make Thunderball over and over again as a rival Bond film.
Aesthetically, one of the more interesting elements of the film is the unique text treatment when we move from location to location. Each treatment tries to convey the feel of the country around it is featuring. The film really takes off in Port au Prince. Bond is trying to follow a lead to figure out more about Quantum. He tracks down Edmund Slate in a hotel. In Slate’s room, a fight breaks out between him and Bond. Slate gets cut in the jugular and dies. It is a pretty graphic death. Slate just stares ahead confused and shocked by what is going on around him until he dies. It’s a very serious moment. Bond doubles as Slate as a car pulls up outside the hotel. It is a woman named Camille. After Camille thinks Slate (Bond) is trying to kill her, she gets away from Bond but he follows her straight to Dominic Greene. We find out that Greene is part of Spectre (oops I mean Quantum) and that he is going to help an exiled Bolivian General named Medrano. If Greene can get Medrano back in power for Bolivia, Greene will receive a piece of land which seems to have nothing important to it. Camille and Medrano have a connection as Medrano murdered Camille’s family when she was young. After Bond follows Camille to a dock-compound he is not allowed in but hands the guy at the front gate a card. It is a Universal Exports Card which is the code name for the British Secret Service. I may be wrong here but I swear the last time Universal Exports was used was in Licence to Kill.

As the film progresses, Greene becomes aware of Bond. Greene meets up with the CIA to talk about bringing Medrano as the dictator. While there, Greene asks CIA Section Chief Gregg Beam to take care of Bond. In attendance is Felix Leiter. In Austria Bond tracks down Greene at a performance of Tosca. Not only does he track down Greene but realizes that the opera is a meeting place for Quantum. Many members of the secret organization are in the audience secretly speaking with each other through earpieces and wearing a Q badge on their lapel. People get injured and killed with Bond being blamed completely for it. M has no other choice but to recall Bond but he goes on the run. It is not so much about the mission but to track down Vesper’s boyfriend.
Bond seeks out the help of Mathis. Mathis is still pretty angry with Bond for getting him arrested. In Casino Royale, Bond says Mathis was working for Le Chiffre yet apparently it was not true. Now, Bond has come to Mathis for help. I really like Mathis. He is intelligent and very human. In Casino Royale I couldn’t believe he would be a traitor and was relieved that ultimately he wasn’t. Together they go to Bolivia to track Greene further. On the plane, Bond is seen drinking a Vesper, the drink he created in Casino Royale. It would be cool if this was Bond’s new drink and is featured by name in other Bond films.  At the airport a woman by the name of Strawberry Fields is waiting for Bond to take him back to the UK. Obviously Strawberry Fields is a name like Honey Ryder. Ms. Fields has Strawberry coloured hair. They get to the hotel where Greene’s company invited Bond to a party that night. Bond goes and sees Camille there. Greene and Camille were once lovers and ever since Greene has been trying to kill her. Unfortunately in another attempt to frame Bond, Greene has Mathis shot and place him in the trunk of Bond’s car for the police to find. Something very similar to what Mathis was doing in Casino Royale.  Mathis dies. It is sad because he was such a good character. Bond’s reaction is cold. He takes Mathis’ body and sticks it into a dumpster and then takes any cash Mathis has on him.

Eventually, after being on the run Bond returns to his hotel room to find M and a contingent from the UK there to take him home. Bond also finds another surprise which is the body of Strawberry Fields but she is completely covered oil. Oil is also found in her lungs. It is said to be an homage to Goldfinger but why would a Bond film need to have an homage to other Bond films? I never like overly self-indulgent sentiment.
Bond and Camille find out that Greene is with Medrano in the Atacama Desert to finalize the coup that will bring Medrano back into power. Camille is going to kill Medrano and Bond will find Greene. At a hotel in the desert, the two men, Medrano & Greene, discuss the plans but as Bond infiltrates and starts taking revenge. During the fight, the hotel starts on fire. Bond and Camille barely escape. They track down Greene who got out a little earlier. Bond drives Greene out to the middle of the desert only to make Greene walk back to civilization…. if he can. Bond gives Greene motor oil to drink if he gets thrirsty in the middle of the desert. It doesn’t matter, Greene is found dead with a gunshot to the head. I like Greene. I think there is something interesting about having a Bond villain who is actually a wimp. Greene is not a very strong person and he really isn’t a match for Bond. He has his muscle from the people he employs. I think Elliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies is similar to that.

One last piece of business which brings us not only to the beginning of the film where M is trying to find the whereabouts of Vesper’s boyfriend but also to where we left off with Casino Royale. Bond tracks Vesper’s boyfriend Yusef to Russia. Yusef uses women for their powerful connections. Yusef works for Quantum. Bond could have killed him but didn’t. The British Secret Service takes Yusef away. Bond finally understands Vesper better and forgives her for her betrayal. In an unprecedented move the gun barrel sequence is at the end of the film and not at the beginning. It’s weird that it’s there but it’s nice to see the classic gun barrel sequence again with Bond wearing a tuxedo. It’s iconic!
The film had some nice guest stars in it. Apart from the obvious such as Olga Kurylenko and Mathieu Amalric there are some of my favourite actors such as Tim Piggot-Smith who plays The British Secretary of State for Foreign Common Wealth Affairs. He is excellent as he usually is in anything he touches. There is also Rory Kinnear as Tanner. His father was Roy Kinnear who was in so many British series from the 1970s and into early 1980s. Rory plays Tanner. I remembered that Tanner was played by Michael Kitchen in the Brosnan era films so I was surprised to see that Tanner appeared in films starting all the way back to The Man with the Golden Gun. He next appeared in For Your Eyes Only, Tanner was Bond’s superior instead of M. The previous film, Moonraker was the last film for Bernard Lee as M before he passed away. Albert Broccoli wanted to show respect to Bernard Lee by not having M in the next film. After that Tanner appears in GoldenEye and The World is Not Enough.

Like this article, Quantum of Solace is only alright; it could have been better. Its heart is in the right place but in my mind fails to capture the real grandeur of film making that we saw in Casino Royale. As usual Daniel Craig is excellent in this. I think the main problems with this film are that the quest for water isn’t particular compelling and I think the direction tries to be too clever but doesn’t quite work. That being said, I cannot wait for Skyfall! Bring it on!

Next week: I love Bond but I am so glad to be done writing about him! The next article I go back to some wonderful random British television. Not just British television but phenomenal British comedy. I look at two episodes of Series 6 of Steptoe and Son: Two’s Company and Tea for Two. I will also talk about why series co-writer and co-creator Ray Galton is solely responsible why we have a complete run of Steptoe and Son episodes albeit not all in their original format. I will be publishing reviews for Upstairs Downstairs series 2 and Cornwall with Caroline Quentin. Finally, on Monday I will be announcing how you can win some Doctor Who DVDs from this site courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment.

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I now have a regular column on DVDTalk called Brit-Streaming. Please check it out here: Brit-Streaming.
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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bond @ 50: Casino Royale

After the release of the 2002 film Die Another Day, there was a paralysis. At least that’s what Pierce Brosnan said. Die Another Day celebrated the 40th anniversary of Bond in film and it was also the 20th film to be released by Eon. It did well in the box office and I think most of us were expecting a fifth and final film for Pierce. A couple of things happened around this time. There was a lull in films being made between 2002 and 2006. In the 1990s Kevin McClory was trying to get another version of Thunderball produced through Columbia Pictures. They owned the rights to Casino Royale and they were hoping to start up their own rival Bond film franchise. In the end, it didn’t matter. Sony Corporation which owns Columbia Pictures led a consortium that purchased MGM thus giving it distribution rights to the official James Bond franchise anyway.

Casino Royale was the very first James Bond novel. It was published in 1953 and of course was written by Ian Fleming. It introduced us to the world of James Bond. Ian Fleming wanted Bond to not solely live as a literary figure. In 1954 Casino Royale was made as part of the Climax! anthology series. This US based production for CBS starred Barry Nelson playing the less than suave American agent James Bond though he often was referred to as Jimmy Bond. It was nothing like what we would soon love about the film franchise but that did not mean that it wasn’t good. It was a live television production that was bounded by budget and the technology of making live television. It was a play. CBS eventually asked Fleming to write 32 episodes featuring James Bond but although Fleming did create outlines for the episodes, production never commenced. The world if James Bond in film could have been very different. These outlines were eventually published by Fleming in 1960 as For Your Eyes Only.
The Eon film series of James Bond began in 1962 with Dr. No. It was decided not to release the films in the order of the novelization publication. When Dr. No was made, it was decided to start with a film that worked best for the start of the series in regards to location vs. budgets. As the Bond film series was in earnest, a spoof version of a Bond film was unleashed on the public in 1967. This was Casino Royale. Charles K. Feldman ended up having the rights to this film. He wanted to get this film made as part of the official Eon canon of films but neither the producer of that film series or himself could come to an agreement on the details to make that happen. Feldman decided the better option was to turn this into a farce rather than trying to compete with the film series.  The film starred Peter Sellers, David Niven, and Woody Allen…all as Bond. The film has a bad rap but I personally adore it.

We jump back to the 21st century. As I am researching for this article especially about the time that Pierce was done with the role of Bond, there are some things that are different than I remember them. There was a point that the fans were waiting for information on the next Bond film. I don’t think there was any reason to believe it would have been too different from Die Another Day. Suddenly things got very quiet from the producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. I seem to remember for a long time Pierce Brosnan making public pleas to have the producers make a fifth film with him. In February of 2005, Brosnan bows out probably realizing that there was not a chance of him returning. One thing that happened a little earlier is that Eon gained the rights to make Casino Royale. It was something that Bond fans now knew would eventually become one of the next films. Bond fans also knew that Casino Royale was the first Ian Fleming novel so it was clear that it would be an introductory story of sorts. That wasn’t what Pierce Brosnan wanted.
While Pierce thought he was still going to play Bond, he wanted to do Casino Royale. He thought that would be a great fifth Bond film for him. Brosnan also thought that the perfect director for this version of Casino Royale would be Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino really wanted to do Casino Royale. I think Brosnan and Tarantino talked about doing it even after Brosnan no longer was Bond. In fact, Tarantino would only do a version of Casino Royale if Pierce Brosnan played Bond. He also wanted to make the film completely in black & white. All of this may have been a good idea but since Tarantino never really formally approached Eon about it, it never was a serious contender. Then in 2005, we meet Daniel Craig.

Daniel Craig was formally announced as Bond on October 14, 2005. Immediately he was roasted by some sectors of the online fan community. Clearly there were a lot of people who thought that Bond should not be blonde. I think to some fans felt that Brosnan was unceremoniously dropped from the franchise and it seemed pretty disingenuous. After all, Brosnan made Bond relevant again in the 1990s starting with GoldenEye.  The producers saw it differently. They saw how films were changing. Films like The Bourne Identity were becoming insanely popular. The type of Bond film that was Die Another Day was extremely popular in 2002 but would that type of film be so popular in 2006? A lot has changed in that genre since then.
The plan was that the next Bond film would indeed be Casino Royale. After 40 years of films taking place in the same continuity, the franchise would reboot itself. Casino Royale would take place right when Bond received his 007 status. We were also told that we would see a Bond who would be making mistakes as he was still early on in his career. As for Craig himself, there was a section of fans that were so sure that the Producers cast the wrong man to play Bond that they set up a boycott site called As for myself, I wasn’t so against Daniel Craig being cast as Bond but more of the idea of a reboot. At the time, I was a fan of the “Bond Formula” as it were and I was not sure how it would pan out. I also recall at the time that the Producers weren’t focusing the film as much on action, it sounded like it was going to be an almost complex character driven film. I knew I would see it but I was very apprehensive and have to admit were not sure if Eon was making the right choice in the direction of the franchise.

On November 17, 2006 I was wrong. I was wrong about everything. I think there were a lot of other people who feared what was going to happen to the franchise who also realized they were wrong. Casino Royale wasn’t good, it was a masterpiece. Daniel Craig made Bond his own from the first frame we see him, he is James Bond. I had a feeling this was going to be the case based on when the trailers started to come out. They looked great. It was a triumph! It felt like no other Bond before. The film itself had scale and depth that made this film stand out as possibly the best Bond ever made. Watching it again to write this article, I was reminded about how wonderful this film was to watch.
The film was directed by Martin Campbell. The last time he directed a Bond film was GoldenEye. I was less than enthusiastic to hear this as I really don’t care for GoldenEye that much. Every shot in Casino Royale is magnificent. Everything looks amazing and rich with detail. It tells the story of Bond becoming 007 and how he nearly lost everything.

The film starts in black & white. To get a 00 status, an agent must have two kills. The reason for the opening being in black & white is because Bond’s life as 007 doesn’t start until the second kill. He kills an MI6 section chief who was selling classified information. The two of them have a standoff in the section chief’s office. Bond is able to relay how he killed the station chief’s informant and we see a flashback of that sequence. This scene takes place in a bathroom which becomes a big fight sequence. This is important as it gives us a glimpse of the fight sequences to come. They are all very tough and real. It’s very physical. The sequence ends back at the MI6 section chief’s office where Bond kills him. At that point we flashback again to the informant that Bond thought he killed in the bathroom only for the guy to come to and try to kill Bond but Bond gets to him first. This is seen through a gun barrel sequence. Yet unlike a traditional gun barrel sequence this is not the first thing we see in the Bond film, a major change in the format of the Bond films. I remember sitting in the theatre in 2006 and as the film studio logos flashed on the screens, the guy in the row behind me quietly hums the opening bars of the James Bond theme fully expecting them to appear as usual. He must have been surprised! I have read recently on a James Bond forum that some of the members there think that if the gun barrel sequence completely disappeared from the James Bond films that the general public would probably not even notice. Bullshit. It is one of the most iconic film images of all time. If the producer chose not to use it in Skyfall or whatever, it shouldn’t be a reason not to see the films but it certainly would be missed. It’s even the image for one of the posters of Skyfall.
From the gun barrel sequence we move onto the opening credits which were designed by Daniel Kleinman. These are extremely stylized and gorgeous. It all is done in the motif of playing cards and gambling. The guns are spades and clubs from playing cards. Animated people in the sequence are being stabbed by diamonds. The sequence is such a strong start for the film. Kleinman took inspiration from the original 1953 novel of Casino Royale. It is clear that I am about to watch something pretty amazing as the credits is a visual tour de force.

The entire film is based on a financier for terrorism Le Chiffre. He puts money into the stock market against some big new money making opportunities. The point is that some sort of terrorist activity happens and it causes the terrorists to make a ton of money off the terrorist act. In the film, M insinuates that some terrorists made a ton of money off of 9/11. Le Chiffre has borrowed over $100 million dollars to put against the prototype airliner Skyfleet that he is planning to blow up.
We catch up with Bond in the film in Madagascar. He is following a bomb maker which leads to one of the coolest sequences in the film if not any Bond film. It’s a free running sequence of Bond chasing the bomb maker through all sorts of levels and roofs on a building site. The sequence has the bomb maker elegantly jumping wall from wall and dive through small holes in walls to get away from Bond whereas Bond is bigger and more physical ends up crashing through walls and is not quite so elegent. The entire sequence is tense and energetic.

Of course this doesn’t work well for M as everything Bond did in Madagascar was reported worldwide. M is still played by Judi Dench. I think Judi Dench is much better as M with Daniel Craig’s Bond. I wouldn’t go as far and say she is motherly but she certainly looks at Bond differently than she did with Brosnan’s Bond. We also find out that the letter M is not a letter assigned to anyone in the position but has to do with their name. At least that what it is for this reboot. Bond being very computer savvy is able to get information from the bomb makers phone to track down where he needs to go to next. Bond heads to the Bahamas. Bond is tracking a call from the number code ellipsis he found on the bomb maker’s phone. Bond gets to the resort that the call went to and is mistaken for a valet by some rich snob. This leads to a great scene where Bond takes this snobs car and bashes it in a fence that sets off the car alarm and a ton of other car alarms.
Bond is able to work out that the new prototype airliner Skyfleet is the focus of a terrorist act. Bond is able to stop it but not before having another amazing action sequence involving a fast chase and multiple crashes on a runway. This was what Le Chiffre put so much money against. Le Chiffre is screwed.

The thing with Le Chiffre is that he is an amazing Poker player. To get the money back that he lost, he sets up a high stake Poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. It costs $10 million to get in with a $5 million buy back. If Le Chiffre loses this, he will be killed. M send Bond out there because he is the best Poker player in the service. M also send with him a woman from the Treasury office named Vesper Lynd. Bond and Lynd have a rapport from the start. It may not be the usual “fall for Bond” type of rapport but it is there. They are undercover as a couple. There is a great scene of the train they are on traveling through the mountains. It is beautiful and when the two meet, they have a very cutting and witty dialogue which is fun to watch.
In Montenegro, Bond teams up with a man named Mathis who helps Bond out. They get into the game at Casino Royale. Right from the start, Le Chiffre and Bond try to stare each other down at the poker table. Bond believes he knows whenever Le Chiffre is bluffing. The game takes a break as Le Chiffre heads back to his room only to find the man who he borrowed the money from, Steven Obbano. Obbano threatens Le Chiffre and leaves only to find Bond and Vesper have been spying him in the hotel hallway. Another great physical fight sequence takes place in the stairwell of the hotel. Once again it keeps you on your toes at it is very aggressive. Bond is beaten up pretty seriously but he kills Obbano. One of my favourite scenes is when he cleans himself up after the fight and tries to wipe all of the blood on him while having a drink to calm his nerves. The camera movements are shaky and raw. It is a great sequence and previously we never really see the aftermath of these types of fights. I just love it.

Bond loses out of the game and Vesper will not allow him the $5 million buy in. It looks like Bond had lost. Suddenly one of the guys who have been sitting at the table the entire time offers to buy in for him. His name is none other than Felix Leiter from the CIA. He will stake the money to allow Bond back into the game only if the CIA can have the recognition for nabbing Le Chiffre. Bond is back in the game and as things starts going well, he gets a drink delivered to the table but the drink is poison. Bond quickly excuses himself from the game and tries to get the poison out of his system. He leaves Casino Royale to go back to his own car. In his car is a defibrillator. Bond has gone into cardiac arrest and is trying to hook it up. One of the connectors got loose so whenever he tried to press the button nothing happens. Bond loses consciousness. One person comes by to save him and it’s Vesper. She re-connects it and saves his life. I think this is a turning point in the relationship. To me it’s very reminiscent of Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Tracy saves Bond’s life when he is on the run after escaping Piz Gloria. Vesper saves Bond’s life after being poisoned.
Bond returns to the game, though he should have gone to the hospital. Ultimately, he wins the game and all of the money. Le Chiffre leaves and should have been arrested by Felix and his men. Bond and Vesper celebrate with a late dinner. It’s a great scene. Bond’s drink of choice wasn’t a usual martin;, it was a drink he created in Casino Royale which consisted of Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. At dinner he tells Vesper that he named the drink after her. It’s a touching scene that ends all too quick as Vesper gets a text from Mathis asking her to join him. Bond finally gets it and realizes it’s a trap for Vesper.

Another great scene is when Bond leaves Casino Royale to see Vesper kidnapped. He races after her in his car only to nearly hit her as she is lying in the middle of the empty road. The car rolls over multiple times. Le Chiffre identifies Mathis has his agent and takes Bond and Vesper away. Le Chiffre needs that money and he seriously tortures Bond for the information to get into the account the money has been wired too. The scene is graphic. Bond is tied to a chair naked. The chair has no seat to it. Le Chiffre has a carpet beater that he swings under the chair and connects with Bonds scrotum. Each time is more and more severe. Bond will not give up the information. Suddenly, a man enters the room. We see him at the beginning of the film. This man shoots Le Chiffre. It’s over. This man is Mr. White. This isn’t the last time we see him.
Bond is recuperating at a hospital and realizes he loves Vesper. In fact both of them plan on resigning from their jobs and living together. It is at this point that Vesper is able to fully transfer the funds that Bond won to the correct account. Little do we know at the time, she is not transferring the fund to the correct account but to her own account.  

In Venice, she goes to run some errands. She sends a text to her office saying that she will be out for the months. Now, perhaps I am a Neanderthal but when she was texting throughout the film, I had no idea what that was. I thought it was some kind of science fiction thing. I know it was only 2006 and looking back on it now, I am basically embarrassed that I had no idea what texting was. If course it was some kind of Sony device. Any kind of electronic or digital devise that was used throughout the film was either a Sony or Ericsson devise since the film was released by Columbia Pictures which is owned by Sony.
Bond resigns via e-mail to M from the secret service but M calls him. It is not about the resignation but about the money not making it to where it needed to go. I like this scene because M never accuses Bond of stealing the money which she could have after his resignation but instead she knows what is going on and after her call to Bond, he now knows what’s going on. Vesper has the money. She has gone to the bank to get the money to hand off to someone else. Apparently any bank in Venice is equipped to allow $125 million to be withdrawn at any moment.

Bond follows Vesper to an old building that is being renovated in Venice. As Vesper is about to hand over the money to this agent, a gun fight occurs that starts the building to collapse. Vesper is in the antique elevator which gets submerged underwater. Bond dives under to save her but she stops him from doing so as she knows what she has done hurt Bond and others. In effect, it’s suicide. Bond still doesn’t realize that Vesper’s action were not her own choice. She loved Bond and never wanted to hurt him. Vesper actually had a boyfriend who was kidnapped and the organization that Le Chiffre and Mr. White belonged to were blackmailing her. Obviously Le Chiffre didn’t know this but he wasn’t pulling the strings, Mr. White was.
Vesper left one more text on this magical device from the future I had never seen before. It alerted Bond to the name of Mr. White and his phone number. The pièce de résistance of the film comes at the end when Bond follows Mr. White to a villa. Bond calls Mr. White and as Bond gets confirmation that he is the correct man, shoots Mr. White in the leg. As White is crawling to the stairs Bond shows up in a smart 3 piece suit and tells Mr. White who he is addressing. The name is Bond…James Bond. Cue the familiar Bond music for the closing credits. This scene is simply bad-ass. It is also the first time the theme music is used in whole throughout the film. That’s nice because the score has the Bond theme weaving through it but not as a primary theme but here is where we hear the full orchestrated version. Bond has arrived!

Like I said, I love this film. In fact, at the risk of sounding too fannish and naïve but I think it should have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. I am being serious. The film has complex themes to it and it is by no means the usual run of the mill Bond fare. It stands alone as a great film; there is no need to think of it as part of a franchise. The book by Ian Fleming is really well-written but I also think the addition of Paul Haggis to the roster of writers polished this script to be the best it could possibly be for this film. Perhaps the film runs a little too long. It seemed like the film could end shortly after Le Chiffre is killed. Obviously, the film was nominated for nothing, which I still think is too bad.
I watched this from the 2-disc version of the Blu Ray. It is a really nice set that includes some really nice behind the scenes documentaries including some stuff that focuses exclusively on Ian Fleming himself. Sadly, this set is not the Blu Ray in the 50th anniversary set or the re-released single of the film. The double Blu Ray set is the one with Bond sitting at the Poker table which looks more in line with the re-release covers. I would highly recommend this set. I know some people are not great fans of the reboot. I would love to hear your thoughts. This new era of Bond couldn’t have started out any better but would the quality keep up for Daniel Craig’s second outing of Bond in Quantum of Solace?

Next Week: We conclude our look at Bond @ 50 with the most recent film prior to Skyfall US release, Quantum of Solace. Is it a worthy sequel to Casino Royale? For DVD reviews, I will be looking at the second series of the new Upstairs Downstairs and a nice travel series about Cornwall hosted by Caroline Quentin.
Have a great week!

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