Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blu Ray Review: George Gently Collection Series 1-4

George Gently Collection Series 1-4 Blu Ray 6-Discs (16 1/4 hours)
Released by Acorn Media on May 28, 2013. SRP $99.99 (DVD)
SDH Subtitles: English 16:9 2.0 Stereo PCM

I have heard of George Gently but have never seen the series. Like many of the great British television series made in the 21st Century, this is one I had never gotten around to watch. I knew I wanted to check it out because the previews on the other Acorn releases for this series looked good and the show has so far been on for 5 series. It would seem that someone was doing something right but would it be right for me?
At a glance, why buy this set:

I loved it! This is not a cliché cops and robbers murder mystery but a solid series that does some amazing episodes as the series goes progresses. Some of the episodes are dark & chilling but the combination of George Gently and Bacchus is a real treat to watch. Their roles are reversed as to how I expected them to be as characters. The setting of 1960s Northumberland is a thrill to watch. Buying this boxset of Series 1-4 is much cheaper than buying them individually; it’s a really good price. The US has these episodes available on DVD & Blu Ray; in the UK these series is only available on DVD.
Purchasing this title from the link above directly helps my site!
This BBC series had its pilot episode air in 2007. It was popular enough where it came back the following year with 2 more episodes. The series is based from the series of book of Inspector George Gently written by Alan Hunter. Hunter started writing Gently books in 1955 and wrote one book a year up until 1998. The original book series was set in Norfolk but for the BBC series the setting was moved to Northumberland and Durham.

Obviously the main character is George Gently. This series, on a few occasions, have all the ingredients of possibly being hugely clichéd. There were a few times I thought to myself, “here we go!” but every time I was happily mistaken. The series starts out with the murder of his wife in London. Gently is a known big-wig within Scotland Yard but his Commanding Officer and other peers feel that this death will be what finally finishes him. Nothing could be further from the truth as Gently knows who the murderer is and where to find him. This takes Gently up to Northumberland where he takes over a case of a similar murder from an officer up there.
This is where we meet Detective Sergeant (DS) John Bacchus. He could have easily been another cliché. He is the young over-ambitious officer who thinks the end justifies the means. He beats people in custody and has been known to move evidence around to suit the case. In the first episode Gently remarks to Bacchus that police work is not to determine who is guilty and fit the evidence around that person. The thing about Bacchus that doesn’t make him a cliché is that he is smart enough to impress his Inspector yet he doesn’t really learn from his mistakes. He gets better but he gets burned a lot. At first I thought I would enjoy seeing him get his comeuppance but eventually I started to feel sad for him. Bacchus has a desire to work for the Metropolitan Police in London.  He also has the misfortune of having his father-in-law be the Police Commissioner in Northumberland.

The episodes themselves are quite good. Although the series is strong from the start, I feel like the series really finds its feet in Series 2. I will lump the pilot into Series 1. Those episodes are strong but they are also bleak to an extent. I am not sure if bleak is exactly right but the settings are almost depressing. Everything is murky and dark. I don’t think I would categorize this series as gritty but the first series was probably one shade away from that.
Series 2 onwards is a different story. One of the selling points of the series for me was that it is set in the 1960s. In the first series, we got a hint of that but in the second series onwards it feels like the production team was having more fun with that without making it a nostalgia trip. That is something that bothers me about series set in the past is that they become a caricature of that era opposed to having it in the background to tell a good story. From Series 2 onwards, the series gets a little brighter in terms of a color scheme and the theme music and incidental music have a little more fun to it. It is not a murky series anymore. The murders and cases are still serious but the partnership and exchanges between Gently and Bacchus are great and not a cliché. By the time we get to the third series, there is really something special happening. The concepts explored in the episode are really unique and really tale George Gently beyond the usual type of detective drama.

In the first episode titled George Gently, we have the death of Gently’s wife and a very angry George Gently. I thought the series was going to be all about who killed his wife and about Gently being a tough guy. I am so happy that is not the case because once again, that would be a cliché. Even though the death of Gently’s wife stays with him in some form throughout the series, it is not the main focus. It is not about revenge or a vendetta that Gently holds. Gently takes very good care of himself but he is not some kind of tough guy with something to prove. In fact he is, for lack of a better term, gentle….to an extent. He will call out BS on someone if he sees it but he knows how to deal with victims and with certain situations that require delicacy. This is something that Bacchus has yet to master.
It’s an odd kind of role reversal than how I thought these characters would have worked together. I really thought George Gently would have been the tough guy that moved from London to Northumberland and shake things up by breaking rules because he was from London. I thought it would have been Bacchus who was more timid from being from the area constantly schooling his CO on how to deal with the locals, etc. Nothing could be further from how it was in the series. Gently is constantly telling Bacchus how to do pull back from being too difficult to suspects in questioning. Gently sometimes questions Bacchus’ methods such as when it appears Bacchus takes a bribe. Bacchus personal life is a mess leaving Gently just shaking his head. Bacchus seems to me to be the kid in school who was picked on his whole life and now that he has a little bit of command, he uses it to settle old score of when bullies were mean to him. Bacchus is a loud mouth and he is basically a punk. So, why do I like him?

He is played very sympathetically by Lee Ingleby. Bacchus is young; he is clearly trying his best but his methods are all wrong. In the episode Gently Through the Mill, he joins the Freemasons and disobeys the oath he took almost immediately to try and catch a criminal. He has the right idea but just the wrong way of going about it.
George Gently is played by Martin Shaw. I had not seen Shaw in anything before or so I thought. If you could have an episode of a TV show as a nemesis mine would be an episode of the 1970s classic series Beasts in an episode called Buddyboy. If you want to know why I hate that episode, check out my article. Gently, himself, is a good person. Gently is tough when he needs to be and sensitive too. Not all cases or perpetrators are straight forward and it needs someone like Gently not to see it in black & white. Gently is also very loyal to his friends even after they are dead. All of that leads to compelling television.

Just like how the two main characters are not cliché, the episodes are not the normal murder mystery. Ever since I started to do reviews for this site, I have seen a great deal of murder mysteries. There is nothing straight forward or obvious about these mysteries. When I thought they were done, we take an amazing twist. Some of the episodes are dark, including children who are killers, people who hate Germans twenty years later after World War II, and racial prejudice. Some of my favorite episodes were Bomber’s Moon, Gently through the Mill, Gently Evil, Gently Upside Down, and Goodbye China. Some of the lesser enjoyable ones for me was the pilot, Peace and Love, and Gently in the Night. Even with the episodes I did not think were as good as the others, it still held my attention. As each episode ended, I couldn’t wait to watch the next one. It kept my attention and I really have warmed to these characters.

Text interviews with the stars plus writer/producer Peter Flannery and on Series 2 and producer Johann Knobel. I don’t know why they do these text interviews. I get no value from them at all. I am assuming people must like them since they have been on Acorn releases for years. Maybe I have an incredibly short attention span but this just doesn’t do it for me. Sorry to say, every time I see these, I pass right by them.
Behind the Scenes Featurette: 13 min. What I love about this is that we get to hear from the people behind the scenes who work on this show and give the sets and period so much detail. The set designer actually puts props into the desk drawer of George Gently with 1960s era props to make that character richer. Of course there are a lot of Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby telling us how brilliant everyone was to work with but I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything different. It is clear that Martin and Lee have a great working relationship.

These episodes are in HD and they look great. The way this series is shot, there are many wonderful backdrops like churches, cathedrals, and universities. They all look stunning. It looks like we are kind of lucky here in the US since the series is released over here on Blu Ray but it is not released that way in the UK. Watching this series in HD is half the fun! I wouldn’t want to see it any other way.

I really do think packaging is a big part of the purchase. This is especially the case when I haven’t seen the series before. The packaging is a fun design that mimics the opening credits of Series 2 & 3. It has bright colors and is very eye catching. It is a wonderful design that made me want to know more about the series. This boxset also comes with a 6 page insert that gives us context to what was going on in the UK during the time these episodes are set. It’s an unnecessary nice touch that binds this set together nicely.

Disc breakdown:
Disc 1: George Gently, The Burning Man
Disc 2: Bomber’s Moon, Text Interviews
Disc 3: Gently with the Innocents, Gently in the Night
Disc 4: Gently in the Blood, Gently Through the Mill, Text Interviews
Disc 5: Gently Evil, Peace & Love
Disc 6: Goodbye China, Gently Upside Down, Behind the Scenes featurette

Next Review: We just reviewed Series 1-4 of George Gently, in a few days I will review Series Five which also came out on 5/28. I will also review the Blu Ray to Doctor Who The Snowmen and Series 7b. A busy week ahead.
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 FTA13867@gmail.com

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

50WHO: The Day I Met Matt Smith For A Drink

This is the fifth part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

I have been connected to fandom for many years. Not as many as some but longer than others. As have been well documented on this site I have been all over the world and have met many people because of my love for Doctor Who. I think some of my favourite moments were in the late 1990s as it seemed that Doctor Who was solely belonged to the fans. It was for the fans who had been so close to it for many years. It didn’t seem like the series would ever return but even without the series, Doctor Who felt very healthy. Money was being spent to restore the episodes, there were 2 distinct lines of original fiction books being released, audio soundtracks and some new audio dramas officially licenced by the BBC were on the way. As for myself, I had ramped up the number of conventions I was going to every year. The Minnesota Doctor Who Viewing Society was going in full swing and I even started a second group called The Minnesota British Television Viewing Society. It was so much fun but then it stopped.
Sometimes real life intervenes. I would have never thought that I would say good bye to going to conventions. I didn’t go to meet celebrities; I went because I had a group of friends from all over that I loved to hang out with. I met all the celebrities I cared to meet at one of the zillions of conventions I attended over the years so that wasn’t of interest to me. Things changed in the early 2000s and I needed to do things differently. Apart from getting married and budgets be allocated to different things, I also went back to school twice. Once for my undergrad and once again for my graduate degree. That sort of thing can take a while and is very expensive. One thing that never waned was my love for this series known as Doctor Who. I just didn’t go a lot of places to talk about it anymore.

Perhaps it was all getting a little too samey. In 2005, as we all know, things were about to change in ways we had hoped of for a long time which was the return of Doctor Who on television. I don’t think any of us could ever imagine how popular Doctor Who was going to be in the UK when it returned but perhaps even more shocking was how popular it was going to be in the US. I am jumping ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the popularity in a moment. First, let me re-introduce myself to you.
For all the years I wrote for this blog, I don’t really talk about myself outside the context of British television or Doctor Who. In fact, that’s the way I like it. For this story to make any kind of sense, I need to provide some background information. I work in the field of Advertising. I can guarantee it is one of the most cynical fields of work in the world. This is why I fit into it so well. In the same day you could have the most brilliant experience of your life while experiencing crushing defeats. It can be an emotional ringer. I love it. I think you need to be built in a special way to understand it let alone to work in it. People ask me if it is like Mad Men. I don’t know; I have never seen an episode. I have been working in the Advertising field since 1996. I currently work for one of the biggest (and dare I say it) the best agencies in the Twin Cities, Carmichael Lynch. We have great clients like Subaru, Jack Links, Trane, Tempur-Pedic and others. We are a creative agency which means that everything we do is going to be kick ass. I work in Content Production. There I manage two internal studios and produce video content on occasion. There are days where I can’t believe they are paying me to work in a creative agency and other days I want to walk away and never look back. That’s not a reflection of the agency but the Advertising industry in general. Emotional ringer. That being said, I am very proud to be CLer. Content Production is just what it says on the tin, it produces content. I love doing that. I do it in my spare time too. This blog is creating content, working on The Omega Podcast is creating content. Inside Carmichael Lynch is an amazing team called Consumer Engagement. When I started in Advertising, it was known simply as Media. They negotiate air time with Networks and Cable stations for our commercials to run during TV shows. This will be important for later in the article. Thank you for humoring me, now back to Doctor Who.

Doctor Who was a niche television program on PBS back in the 1980s. It was popular amongst Doctor Who fans but as far as mainstream it wasn’t going to happen. When Doctor Who returned in 2005 on BBC1, I thought it had a chance to become something more than a niche program but then I became disappointed when it found a home in the US on Sci-Fi. It was very predictable. In fact, it didn’t seem to be anything more than just another series on the roster of generic sci-fi shows. It was slotted in on Friday nights, at least it wasn’t sandwiched between one of the 57 Anaconda sequels made by Sci-Fi. Doctor Who’s fortune was going to change when Sci-Fi (or was it SyFy by then) did not renew their rights for showing more Doctor Who. Suddenly the show went to a network that seemed to be the right choice from the start, BBC America. If I am not mistaken, I think they started with the 2009 Specials plus reshowing old new-series episodes. Little did anyone know at the time that two explosions were going to happen simultaneously. First, BBC America were going to promote the hell out of Doctor Who when it returned for Series 5 and second, we were about to be introduced to Matt Smith as the Doctor. The marriage of these two entities have catapulted Doctor Who and BBC America in the US farther than anyone would ever dream.
In 2008, the fanbase of Doctor Who imploded with the exception of myself and some other people with the ridiculous announcement on live television during the NTA that David Tennant was leaving Doctor Who. I have never been a great fan of his version of this wonderful character but I cannot deny the stellar job he did for the fan community. The good news was that were going to get a new actor to play Doctor Who but there is always the unknown about who they would cast for this iconic role.  When Matt Smith was introduced to us in an episode of Doctor Who Confidential, I was worried. He did not interview well. He was all over the place using his hands to illustrate his points but even his points were all over the place too. It was a slightly unsettling time since Russell T. Davies was also leaving the series making way for Steven Moffat to take over the duties of Show Runner. It wasn’t until the 3D Cinema Trailer for Series 5 was released in the UK that I was literally shocked by Matt Smith. He was confident, decisive and extremely articulate. He wasn’t rambling like I saw in earlier interviews. I immediately felt better. Seeing trailers for the series I couldn’t wait.

Back in 2010, Doctor Who was not shown the same day in the UK and US. At that point, it was shown in the UK and shown in the US a week later. There is a distinct possibility that I saw Matt Smith’s first story, The Eleventh Hour prior to being shown on BBC America. Just before the launch of Series 5 of Doctor Who, I was looking through Gallifrey Base forum and noticed a very interesting post. Basically BBC America was bringing over Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat to New York City for a couple of Q&A sessions and a screening of The Eleventh Hour prior to the US premiere. This is when my brain started to think. As I mentioned above, I haven’t been to anything with Doctor Who fans for a while and how often would I have a chance to meet actors from the new series while they were in the show? I knew I need to go. So, I knew my favourite spot distribution partner we work with on a regular basis had an apartment in New York. If I could stay there for a day or so, that would help expenses. Then I realized that we run some client work on BBC America such as commercials we make. That was when things got really, really interesting.
I contacted people I knew in Consumer Engagement at CL to see if they would be willing to contact BBC America on my behalf to see if there was going to be an after party at this event in NYC that I could be invited to because all of these things usually have some sort of get together when the main event is over. To make an already long story short, BBC America got back to us and said they were not doing an after party. That’s cool; I understood that. Then, I read the entire e-mail. They went on to say that they took the liberty of contact Steve Moffat and he was cool to meet with me after the QA session and oh, he was going to bring Matt Smith and Karen Gillan along too. I found it hard to articulate in words how I felt but I think it went along the lines of Holy Shit!

I persuaded my friend Robert to come along since he is also a massive fan of the series and basically BBC America set up for us to go to the Apple Store is Soho for a Q&A session and that night we would have drinks with Matt, Karen and Steven. The next day we would go to the Village East theatre for a screening of The Eleventh Hour and another Q&A session. I could not wait.
I have never been to New York before. It really is like no place I have ever been. Landing at LaGuardia, I could not help but notice how blocky and big the Empire State Building is against the rest of the skyline. It really is a massive building. We get to the apartment we were staying at and it is gorgeous. It is just a wonderful place to stay. This was not something these partners of ours needed to do but because of their generosity they saved us a lot of money and help make our trip amazing.

The day that we were due at the Apple store was kind of nerve-wracking for me. We were going to meet the people who made Doctor Who! I had been through this scenario many times but this time it felt different. I was actually starting to feel a little awkward for having this chance to meet them. It was a Tuesday and during the day we met up with my spot distribution partners who kindly took us out for steak at an amazing steak house a couple of blocks from the Chrysler Building.  It was fun and the food was phenomenal. Those who know me will know what a steak aficionado I am; I love it and I love to prepare it. Yet, the entire time I was nervous. I wasn’t going on behalf of the agency I work for but regardless I still represent them and I want to come across as some kind of intelligent human being. A tall order indeed!
The apartment we stayed at was about four blocks from Grand Central station. If you went out the front door of the building we were staying at and looked to the left Grand Central was right there. It is one of the most majestic and cool places I have ever been in my life. Just around the corner where we were staying and up a couple of block was the Empire State Building. The Apple store where the Q&A session was being held was in Soho. We decided to walk from where we were staying up to Soho. It was a long walk but boy was it worth it. The sights! Everywhere you look was something familiar or just simply gorgeous. It’s cool that you could walk this route and not expecting to see anything but suddenly I found myself walking past such interesting things as the Flatiron building. Once again, the whole way there I was really nervous. Once we got to the Soho area, we had a little time before we needed to meet my BBC America contact so I decided to get some help to calm my nerves from an old friend of mine named alcohol!

We went to this small blue-collar bar that clearly was old. It was small and wasn’t an old bar that had been renovated with the owners making a big deal that this was an historic bar. It was just an old bar. They suggested to me to try a local brown ale and after about 3 of them I felt a little better. Now, it was time to meet Michael from BBC America.
After around 2,200 words into this article, let’s talk about the event. Meeting Michael was a great experience. It was clear everyone who I met from BBC America that night had high hopes that Doctor Who would perform well for them. We go up the stairs to where the event was being held. There were a ton of people there already. I was wondering where we were going to stand but Michael lead the way. He took us past rows and rows of people sitting and brought us right up to the front. There was a row of chairs that nobody was sitting in and they were reserved. That’s where we sat. No one else would join us. Eventually some photographers and press would sit there but it was just us. I felt kind of bad because all of these people were behind us and we were just sitting there taking up a whole row. I felt bad but it was pure awesome! We got Doctor Who magnets which were fun and then got a preview on a screen of the upcoming Series 5. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before but the crowd was enthusiastic. Finally the moment we were all waiting for came and that was when Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat came on stage.

They were right in front of me, just feet away from me. Because there were hardly any people in that front row, I felt very conspicuous and was hoping (for some reason) they didn’t see me. They answered all sorts of questions about everything. How do you like being Doctor Who? How do you like New York? How long do you plan on staying in the role? Moffat made a funny observation I never thought of before. He mentioned how everyone refers to Matt Smith and Karen Gillan by their names but when referencing Steven Moffat, most people just say Moffat. Like Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Moffat are at the Apple store. I thought that was funny and very true. So true, in fact, that I actually employ that in this article.
Even though I don’t go to these types of things often some of the same lameness that persisted in fandom back when I was super active still exists today. For example, when the questions were opened to the audience someone from the back prefaced his question with, “this is so and so from the so and so podcast”. Obviously, replace so and so with real names. I guess my point is should I be impressed with your podcast so much so that you need to name it prior to asking the question? Were you hoping for some people in the crowd saying oh my god, THEY ARE HERE TOO. Should Moffat be impressed? Podcasts are for many un-realized dreams of being a broadcaster, ( I worked in broadcasting for years) so they do stuff that is just silly to try and live out that dream. I think we tend to do that with the podcast I am on too and that includes me. It’s never good to take yourself too seriously. Then some 400 pound guys gets up to ask a question. He asks in his eloquent way, “Karen, do you like fat men?” Hi Karen welcome to the United States of America. Wow! The crowd did squirm but not as much as Karen. She was put on the spot and it was uncomfortable to me but she managed it well. I wish I could say that was the only time over the course of two days I would hear someone ask Karen that question. The Q&A was over and it was time for some drinks with BBC America plus Matt, Karen, and Moffat!

After the Q&A, we met up with Michael and he told us we would be going to a hotel a couple of blocks over to meet up with everyone. He was asking me how long I have been a fan of Doctor Who and general questions like that. It goes to show how things have changed since 2010 and what BBC America has done to promote the series. Back then, I felt weird talking about being a fan because it was so niche but now so many people I know casually are fans or have heard of it, I am just not bothered by it anymore. It is simply unbelievable.
The view from behind our seats at the Apple store.
We get to the hotel and go to the second level where the bar was located. It was very modern and even still I expected a large group of people to be at this bar to meet with the three stars. It took a while to realize that this drinks get together was solely for the benefit of me. Everyone, including the BBC America folks, were here at this function because of me. When Matt, Karen and Moffat turned up we all stood up from the couches we were on and Matt said, “Which one is the bloke from Carmichael Lynch?” That was me. Wow! Yes, I was star-struck. It was pretty cool to see them at the Apple store earlier that evening, I cannot find words to express how amazing it was to meet each one sit at a small table with them, have drinks and a conversation. Truly a highlight.

I hate to say it but there was one thing I did not want to talk about with them and that was Doctor Who. They live and breathe it. They talk about it in interviews and I just wanted to have a chat. I asked Matt how he liked New York and he mentioned how coming out here was their reward for the months of shooting they endured. He was extremely pleasant. I didn’t talk with Karen much. To be honest, I wouldn’t have much to say…she’s a girl. OK, that’s not the reason I just didn’t have anything to relate to as she was a young woman in NY, she was speaking with a BBC America person who was also female and her age so they spoke about all sorts of cool relating to being in New York. I really enjoyed talking with Moffat. He was very interesting and I tried to explain to him the difference in space between being in New York City and being in Minneapolis. In New York City, you could be in a room with a door at the far end of it. After a while you would open the door to find a busy fancy restaurant in it there you never knew existed and it turns out to be one of the best restaurants in town. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis the restaurant would be on a big piece of land with a huge parking lot with signage promoting it all over the place. Moffat also mentioned he couldn’t see the difference in quality between SD and HD. I now think it is really interesting with his views on 3D. When we met, he thought it was gimmicky and didn’t see a point to it. Of course now, the 50th anniversary special will be in 3D. We spoke a lot of television production. After about 40 minutes, each of the three stars were called away to do some interviews. When they were finished with the interviews, they were done for the night. That was the perfect amount of time as I wouldn’t have much to say to them. I felt really bad for Robert as it was pretty loud in there and he was at the far end of the table. I think he was left out of the conversation and I always felt badly about that.
After Matt, Karen and Moffat left we stayed at the bar with BBC America for hours and they were very kind with their hospitality. They bought us drink and food all night plus provided some great conversation. I really enjoyed it. They were kind enough to invite us to the BBC America offices the next day which I was tempted to do but I didn’t want to outstay our welcome. They had been very kind to us and we would be seeing a bunch of them the next night for the premiere of The Eleventh Hour. It was around midnight when we left the hotel in Soho. Instead of taking a cab with them, we walked all the way to Time Square. Perhaps not the smartest idea but we never felt unsafe. It was all good.

The next day we thought we would get in some sight-seeing and get ready to go to the Village East Theatre. Once again, we felt it would be a great idea to get in a drink or more in us before we got to the theatre. I knew that I needed to go into a separate entrance as we would be shown where we would be seated so I wasn’t worried that when we got to the area early and walked down the street to the theatre that we saw hundreds of people waiting in line to get in to watch The Eleventh Hour and a chance to see Matt, Karen, and Moffat. We get to a bar where I order a drink and we sit outside as it is a warm April day. A couple of other guys sit behind us. While we are sitting there, some other dude pulls up in his car to park and hits the other bumper of the car behind him, he gets out and walks away like nothing happened. The two guys behind me get up and start yelling at this other idiot. These two guys are built pretty solid while the other guy was shorter but had quite the mouth on him. The two guys start telling him that he hit their car while this shorter guy is denying he hit any car at all but we all saw it. They start throwing insults at him every time he mouthed off such as, “Shut up dude, you’re like 3 feet tall!” Alright, I laughed at that. He was probably about 5 foot but like I said, he had a mouth. It escalated with all of them screaming at each other with the two bigger dudes standing up. I thought there was going to be a fight with one of them falling on me. Finally, across the block everyone saw a policeman. So the two bigger dudes start telling the little guy that they are going to get him over here and they start yelling to the policeman who literally looks at them and runs off the other direction! Finally things die down and the little guy walks away. Some other woman sitting out there asked the two guys, “what are you going to do about your car?” In which one of the two guys responds, “Nothing. It’s not our car; we just wanted to give this guy a hard time!” Wow!
The front of the line outside the Village East Theatre that went on for blocks.
So after that we get to the theatre and go through the VIP entrance. I go up to the registration table and let the woman know I am guests of BBC America for the screening. She politely tells me that they are not seating yet nor taking names. So I stand back in a corner. About 5 minutes later, someone comes up to her, looks like he is checking in and she lets him pass. So being super hyper as I have been for some reason throughout this whole trip I go back to her and try checking in again. With a look of WTF, she once again politely tells me that they still are not checking people in and she will let me know when they are ready. To try and save some face, I just let her know I wasn’t sure as I thought I saw her just checking someone in. She let me know he worked there and I foolishly went back to my little corner. Soon, we were allowed to go into the theatre.

The interior of the theatre was magnificent. It was old and beautifully decorated inside. We got to sit in “Reserve Seating” and had a very good look at everything. Behind us was Arnold T. Blumberg. I don’t know him at all but Robert did and we all had a nice chat. Soon we got the screening of The Eleventh Hour. I have mentioned elsewhere that watching Doctor Who with a group of people can be pretty exhilarating. I have never watched it with nearly 400 people before and most of them had never seen the episode. Please remember, no episodes starring Matt Smith had been shown in the US yet. This was big. There are moments that still give me chills from watching the episode in the theatre. This included the first time we saw Matt, especially after his head poked out of the TARDIS when Amelia was investigating the crashed ship. Of course the biggest screams came from the shots of all the different monsters at the end of the episode with the Doctor warning the Atraxi and then the theatre exploded when all of the previous Doctor’s images show up on screen. It was really exciting.
Afterwards, we get a Q&A with Matt, Karen & Moffat. There are some good questions but a lot that we heard the previous night. That’s not too surprising. Yet again, either the same guy or someone different asks Karen the question if she likes to date fat guys and if she does, will she date him. Nice. Really nice. After everything ended, Robert and I stayed in the theatre to allow the 350 plus people leave. We were sitting next to a real nice woman who was named Kat. We all had an instant rapport. I don’t think she worked for BBC America but knew people who did because she got a call from someone while we were talking with her. Apparently BBC America were recording people who just seen the episode and wanted to use it in online promos for the series. Kat asked us if we want to be interviewed to be used in any of promos in which we both said yes. She brought us down to the front of the theatre and all three of us answered some questions on camera about what we saw. It’s funny because you may think you know how to answer questions to things when you are just sitting in a chair with no pressure to think about it. It is entirely different when you have bright lights and a camera in front of you. I don’t remember the questions but it was probably what was your favourite part of the story? I don’t remember what I answered but I wasn’t embarrassed by it. Robert had a creative and interesting answer that tied in nicely with the episode itself. Isaw the promo on the BBC America web site for a little while and then it was taken down. I never took a copy.  It was a nice ending to an exciting trip. The next day we packed up and went home.

I had started this blog in 2007 and stopped in 2008. When I went on this trip I decided that I wanted to go home and start up the blog again because I wanted to write this story. I decided to wait to tell the story because I didn’t want to look like I was showing off so I thought I would write it sometime in the summer of 2010 but in the meantime write some other articles so I could establish myself again and not have my first article back showing off about meeting Matt Smith. I never thought it would take 3 years to write this but I am glad I have done so now. A lot of people, including many I didn’t know or barely knew, went out of their way to make this trip special for us.
I just want to publicly thank Michael and his colleagues at BBC America, Sheri Lawrence and her wonderful team at Tylie Jones, and of course Carmichael Lynch. Also, a special thank you to Matt, Karen, Moffatt and my good friend Robert.

Back in 2010, I wrote an article about the actual episode of Doctor Who The Eleventh Hour. Please check it out here: The Eleventh Hour.
Next 50WHO article: The missing episodes of Doctor Who is my favourite subject concerning the series. I honestly don’t know if I would have enjoyed the series as much if it weren’t for this fascinating subject. For long-time Doctor Who fans, perhaps one of the most exciting moments for missing episodes was the return of The Tomb of the Cybermen. Next month I will explain more about my fascination with this subject, my love of this particular story and how I knew that The Tomb of the Cybermen was going to be returned to the BBC Archives back in November of 1991 while news broke about it in January of 1992.

Next week: I finish off my month long theme of final episodes of TV series as I look at the final 2 episodes of the very funny Thames series Man About the House.
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 FTA13867@gmail.com

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Monday, May 20, 2013

DVD Review: The Royal Collection

The Royal Collection 4-DVD Set  (Main Feature: 467 min)
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on May 21, 2013. SRP $24.99 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH 16:9 Stereo

I think I have more than a passing interest in the Royal family. No, I don’t have a ton of collector plates around my house with pictures of Queen Elizabeth II on it nor did I tune into Prince William’s and Kate Middleton’s wedding but I have to admit I enjoy a good documentary on the Royal family if I can find one. I have been watching this type of documentary for a number of years but wasn’t sure what I would get with this new set.
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This is an interesting title to release as I would have thought something like this would have been more appropriate last year with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee but I have to say that this is a very welcome title. The Royal Collection is a collection of BBC documentaries made over the last few years and it is broken across four discs. The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, King George and Queen Mary: The Royals Who Rescued the Monarchy, Queen Victoria’s Children, and How To Be a Prince.  One thing that immediately grabbed my attention was that the price is very reasonable for 4 DVDs. It reminds me of those DVD sets you buy in Walmart that has something like 12 discs for $20 but the difference here is that it is released by a very reputable organization and the documentaries are made by the BBC which is one of the best documentary makers in the world plus who would know British royalty better than the BBC? Here is a breakdown of what you get on the set.

Queen Victoria’s Children 180 min
I will go through this set  in chronological order. This documentary is broken up into 3 parts: Best Laid Plans, A Domestic Tyrant, Princes Will Be Princes. We start out with the arranged marriage between Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria had a rapturous appetite for intimacy and because of it had 9 children. The documentary tells us how cold Queen Victoria could be to her children but how hands on Albert was towards them.

One thing I didn’t know was that not only was Prince Albert very involved with his children’s upbringing but he was ridiculously strict with them, especially the boys. It makes for an interesting story about how the children were raised but it still didn’t stop some of the children from having a scandalous life of their own. Especially as one of the scandalous children was none other than the heir to the thrown Edward VII.
King George and Queen Mary: The Royals Who Rescued The Monarchy 116 min

This is a very interesting program. It is broken up in two parts: King George V and Queen Mary. It is a great look at their lives and how they brought up their children. A big part of what George needed to do was to bring the monarchy back to have moral values than it did while Edward VII was on the throne but that was just a small part of what King George needed to accomplish.
What surprised me was that I never really thought how World War I really decimated the royal landscape in Europe. Up until then, Royalty in Europe would marry royalty in Europe. Once World War I broke out that would change. Kaiser Wilhelm II was cousins to both George V and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. The UK Royal Family was face with a real problem. King George was afraid that the people of England would turn on him and his monarchy since there is German in them. The Royal Family changed a lot about themselves including changing the name of the royal house from House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor which is more British sounding.

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II 50 min
This is the shortest of the documentaries but I think it is the best. It may be worth the entire price of the set by itself. It talks about the coronation but it is incredibly in-depth. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Maids of Honors who were in the ceremony. There is a lot of background information. It really goes into detail of how engaged Queen Elizabeth II was in being a part of the coronation and how uninvolved the Duke of Edinburgh sometime was during the planning of this event.

It covers a ton of stuff that is really interesting including the way rows of bleachers were built into Westminster Abbey to accommodate all of the people who needed to be there. One of my favorite moments was when one of the Maids of Honors were talking about how Queen Elizabeth II would watch someone else at rehearsals for the coronation to play Queen so she could see how she might look and there are pictures to back that up! This is one I will easily go back to again and again.
How To Be A Prince 116 min

Produced in 2003, this documentary focuses on Prince William turning 21. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to like this one because the subject matter isn’t really that interesting to me but I was wrong. It doesn’t just cover Prince William but also looks back at other Princes such as Charles. Not only was it interesting but it gave me a lot more respect for Prince William. He was not just a playboy who travels the world but has done a lot of good thing and has gone on some great goodwill missions to underprivileged countries.
Over the course of two episodes it looks at the upbringing of the Prince and then in the second episode asks the question about how will the prince help the monarchy of the future. I was surprised to see a young Piers Morgan, now at CNN, interviewed. It seems like most people interviewed agreed that if William has to wait until 50 to become king, there will be no monarchy.

I think the packaging for this is really quite good. Each documentary is in its own amary case and all housed in a sleek red box that is tastefully designed. Each of these DVD is available separately but when this collection is bought, it also includes a replica of a booklet for Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation, featuring original photography from the ceremony. It is a really nice and sturdy book that is 32 pages and is a reproduction of the photographs and print. I think it’s a wonderful extra for this set.

I am really happy with this 4-disc set. It has amazing documentaries that I plan to watch more than once and the nice replica book of the coronation. The price is right and it is all produced by the BBC which is really good enough for me. If you have an interest in the Royal Family, the price is right, why not check it out?
Next review: Up on deck for reviews: Blu ray release of Series 1-5 of George Gently released by Acorn Media plus some Doctor Who Blu Rays: The Snowmen and Series 7 Part 2.

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 FTA13867@gmail.com

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Royal Command Performance of The Good Life

As usual in May, I take a look at last episodes of seasons or series. I love doing this because I am fascinated with how TV series end their run. I am curious about how writers decide to wrap up their characters and story lines. Yet sometimes, a series may just end but leaves us, the viewer, with the impression that the character’s lives just go on and on. We get that with the very last episode of The Good Life. There isn’t any real finality to the lives of Tom, Barbara, Jerry or Margo but yet it is one of the most unique final episodes of any TV series and in some ways one that left me a little depressed.

What I personally consider the final episode of The Good Life ran in May 1977 with an episode called The Anniversary. It was the two year anniversary of Tom and Barbara deciding to give up their lives as what would be normal suburban life and become completely self-sufficient. This means that Tom gives up his job and both he and Barbara make everything themselves. What they cannot make they will barter. It had been a tough 2 years with the final episode having their home ransacked. It was a very serious end to a series that had been so funny yet also poignant as Tom & Barbara even after all of this decides to stick with the self-sufficiency lifestyle. They even toast the occasion to the good life.  It is a marvelous ending to a TV series but it wasn’t quite over yet.
The Good Life returned around Christmas of that year with Silly, But It’s Fun…. This Christmas episode had the Leadbetters sharing Christmas with the Goods because the Leadbetters had no decorations, food or drink due to an oversight. Would this be the final episode of the series? No, not yet and the next one was going to be really interesting.

When I’m 65 TX: 10/06/78
How interesting does it get? Not only is this really is the final episode of the series but it is done in a way of such grandeur that has not been seen on any comedy before. This is a Royal Command Performance. What this means is that Queen Elizabeth II was in the audience along with The Duke of Edinburgh. This is a very interesting production because the actual episode, When I’m 65, actually feels very secondary to the whole production.

The episode starts off with a shot of BBC Television Centre as it appeared back in 1977 and shows the Royal Rolls-Royce entering the BBC Television Centre grounds containing the Quees and Duke of Edinburgh. The whole event has a commentary given by Brian Johnston who was a commentator for the BBC from 1946 to 1993. He did a lot of commentary on cricket matches and was a very well-known voice to millions. To my knowledge, this episode wasn’t always included in the syndication package for PBS. If it has, maybe it was just the episode stripped out. I have to admit, I didn’t follow the series that closely on PBS in the 1980s but when I was watching it in the 1990s I saw it, I was really surprised.
I didn’t pay too close attention to some of these series in my TV Guide when they were on PBS, at least not The Good Life. I didn’t always look in the listing magazine to see which episodes were going to air that week. I was watching the series and one night I tuned in and it was the Royal Command Performance! Why this was so interesting to me was that it had BBC television Centre in it and literally showed us what the studio was like prior to record an episode of The Good Life! I by no means have ever hid my love for BBC Television Centre. Obviously in many BBC programs, the iconic building would show up from time to time. I rarely got to see inside so it was really fun to watch cameras following the Queen into the main reception and eventually into TC6, studio 6, which is where they recorded the episode. I have been now spoiled with a ton of imagery of the inside of BBC Television Centre over the past year leading up to its closure so to be honest, there is a lot less of the interior than I remembered in this special episode. Back when I first saw this I thought it was the bee’s knees. It’s still cool but there is just a lot of footage of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh meeting people. Not exactly riveting viewing for me but if you like it, great.

One of the highlights of this section is when production assistant Brian Jones explains to the audience how television production works. Everyone in the studio is dressed in their finest which really gives the production a very momentous feel to it. It’s odd though as, to me; some of the shots of Brian explaining the process of making television seem soft and out of focus. It seems like it is just one camera. The only people who are not dressed up are the actors because they are dressed for their roles in the production. Brian Jones walks us through the sets, if you were in the audience, where you could view footage that was already shot or from sets that needed to be “double banked” which means sets that are hidden behind other sets outside the view of the audience could be seen on small monitors above all the action. It really shows us how minimal these productions really are when produced. When I watch these shows, I don’t count how many sets where in the episode but watching Brian Jones, it shows that there really isn’t that many at all. Brian does introduce Richard Briers who in turn introduces the rest of the cast. When it is just Richard and Brian talking, Richard makes some joke about Jimmy Saville and I am not sure if it is a Jim’ll Fix It joke or not. Trust me, I am not alluding that his joke had anything to do with the unfortunate information that came out about Saville over the last year, it’s just the joke made no sense to me.
After about 10 minutes of set up, the episode begins. Basically the episode focuses on how Jerry is planning on living with Margo once in retirement. He is getting a physical and realizes he is not in as good of health as he thought. All this got Tom to think about how he going to provide for Barbara when they reach pensioner age. As it is, they don’t make any money at all especially trying to be self-sufficient. This had really got him worried so he decided to go to his bank and try to sort out this problem.

Courtesy of John Archbold
At the bank he speaks with the bank manager, Mr. Downs, about the bank giving Tom £2,000/year which the bank will then own his home once he dies. Of course now there are programs which are actually along these lines but back then not so much so. Mr. Downs does not see the benefit for the bank to go along with this plan. For example, part of Tom’s plan includes an age Tom and Barbara will be dead for the bank to take over their house. Mr. Downs inquires what happens if their deaths are not so punctual and they live a lot longer. Needless to say, Tom leaves the bank without a plan but does take £3 out of his account to buy flowers for Barbara. Granted he only had something like £3.80 in his account.
The episode ends with Tom and Jerry trying to outdo each other by running a race. Jerry is on a health and exercise kick to get into shape and thinks he can easily take on Tom. Tom thinks he can easily take on Jerry and suggest an even more ambitious route than Jerry did for their race. The next day, they start the race and they are off! They eventually can’t handle the running anymore; each one is completely exhausted and they stop into the nearby pub! Margo and Barbara are waiting at the finish line outside their houses when the see Tom and Jerry neck and neck running towards the finish line. It’s a tie! Both of their egos are intact and they turn to go into their houses but are stopped as a taxi comes up to them. The driver yells out to them that one of the two left their wallets in the car!

The special ends with the Queen meeting with each of the actors and production staff and then she goes home. The actual episode itself is alright but only alright. To me, everything that made The Good Life was not in there. There was nothing about Tom and Barbara trying to make ends meet by working out in the back garden. I suppose because this was a one-off episode that the production team made a conscious decision not include ripping up someone’s garden just for one episode opposed to a whole series. That being said, even with all the characters in it I just did not find it overly funny. The Good Life is a hilarious series but there really wasn’t any laugh at loud moments for me. It was alright but almost seemed like it ran out of steam. There was the scene with Tom talking in the kitchen looking into the fire with Barbara with him moaning about becoming an old man and Barbara puts a blanket over him and has him clutch a an umbrella that looks like a cane. Tom realizes what he is describing is what Barbara made him look like. It’s contrived and it was trying too hard which is not a characteristic of this series. A lot of the story seemed that way to me. I really felt it’s heart wasn’t in it.
I did notice that in a few scenes Barbara was doing a lot in the background that was kind of like doing chores. This falls more in line with what I thought was missing from the episode, for example at one point in the kitchen she is cutting up potatoes and in another scene she is sewing. Margo at this stage basically has a To The Manor Born haircut. She looks more like Audrey fforbes-Hamilton than Margo Leadbetter. It’s funny because when I saw this performance for the first time, it was the first time I ever saw this series with its original title in the title sequence. Over in the US, it was always Good Neighbors. The title sequence was changed for transmission over here in the US. Of course on the R1 BBC DVD sets they have the correct titles but the series was originally released on R1 on Acorn Media and they used the old PBS syndication masters which had Good Neighbors on the title. Those episodes even had the Lionheart logo at the end of the episodes. The R1 DVDs have the title of Good Neighbors on the packaging but the actual episodes on the DVDs have the proper title sequence. The reason that it was not brought over to the US as The Good Life was because there was a short-lived Larry Hagman series called that and didn’t want to confuse anyone. At least that is what I have always been told. I suppose with the series still in syndication in the US, it is still called Good Neighbors since that what so many people has known it as for so long.

The subject of the episode left me a little uneasy. This is the first time I have watched The Good Life since Richard Briers passed away in February of this year. The episode talks about these characters dying and even Tom working out a plan so both him and Barbara can have money to live up to the age of 85. Richard Briers passed away at age 79. It’s pretty lame to not separate a character from the actor but in this case it is really difficult. I thought the same with Paul Eddington when I watched this the first time. When I worked at the corporate campus of Best Buy there was a guy who I worked with named Peter. He always reminded very much of Richard Briers or perhaps more so Tom Good. Peter is a guy who has good energy and even when dealt with stupid or bad situations, he didn’t let it get to him. He always found a way to solve problems with a kind word or perhaps being a little silly at his own expense just to make things better. He is a good guy who I think of every time I watch this series. He eventually became my boss for a while and then he left to work somewhere else. I have lost touch with him over the years but I think if anyone has the qualities of Tom Good, there doing alright.
The Good Life was not just a BBC Comedy series, it became an institution. Families around London tried the self-sufficiency movement and some still live it acknowledging that this series was got them interested in trying out the lifestyle. The premise may seem very 1970s but actually could easily make for a great series today. It was about two people who wanted to live their lives their own way on their own terms. How many people can say they truly do that? Raise your glasses for a toast. To, the good life!

I consider the final episode of The Good Life to be The Anniversary. I write a little bit about it here.
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Next week: I will publish my fifth article in the 50WHO series of articles celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who. This time I focus my attention on Matt Smith as I recall the time I sat down with him at a bar in New York and had drinks. Well, not just Matt but Karen and Moffat too.

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 FTA13867@gmail.com

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