This UFO episode from 1971 is years ahead of its time

The Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series UFO was a feature of my youth but on the whole I remembered it as a fairly decent bit of often camp TV SF. In the last weeks I’ve watched a few episodes and one leaps out as something not just different, but decades ahead of time in terms of meta-commentary.

Mindbender features this synopsis

Lieutenant Andy Conroy is investigating a crash involving an alien craft on the Moon when he suddenly gets caught up in a Wild west type shoot-out with Mexican brigands. Back at the SHADO’s earthly base another officer, Beaver James, gets involved in another shoot-out, this time with aliens. Then a voice shouts “Cut!” and the whole is seen to be a film being made at the studios telling the story of Straker’s life. So what’s real and what’s imagined?

This is meta before the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison made careers out of it, and is arguably much more adventurous being as it takes place in what was a pretty mainstream programme of the time. Mindbender really is a superb bit of television and takes the sort of risks many a programme now would never risk in case it annoys the fans. Something like this probably did annoy fans at the time but it’s such an experimental script (possibly brought on by budgetry concerns) that it really is ahead of the curve by several decades.

Thankfully YouTube have it all, so enjoy…

The joy of Space:1999

I used to love Gerry Anderson shows as a kid. Thunderbirds though was never my favourite, for me it was all about Captain Scarlet, but his live action stuff for years never seemed to find favour with me when I was older. Recently I’ve been swallowing up Space:1999 on YouTube.

I loved Space: 1999 as a kid. I even loved the flares.

I especially loved the die-cast toys of the Eagle spaceships.

Oooo, look at this beauty!

And this one, though I used to lose the wee containers.

Of course being the 1970’s there were AIrfix kits with the Hawk spaceship being my favourite.

Of course the programme itself is worth it’s weight in gold, the first series especially as it had a strange melancholy feel in many of the episodes that belied it was essentially an action-adventure series on Thursday evenings on ITV. The tone is set in the first episode.

Though the flares do somewhat overwhelm.

You could get lost in the swish of Martin Landau’s flared jumpsuit.

That first series is mainly wonderful. It’s a mix of big ideas, some good scripts, and of course action, adventure and 70’s fashions.The second series less so as the story is the American audience found the first series ‘too cerebral’ so stories became lightweight and trivial. One episode even had this title.

So here’s a word of appreciation for a great (first) series, and a series which as far as I’m concerned had the best title sequence of any programme in the 1970’s.

Rumours of reboots and continuations are a regular thing but they’ll never take away from the joy that is that first season…

 

 

A word of appreciation for John Hurt

John Hurt has passed away, and the world is a wee bit darker today. I’m not going to go on as there’s better than me doing tributes for the man, but this is a little tour through what Hurt meant to me.

I first saw him as a kid in the superb I, Claudius, and I think at that point he became an actor who I deeply admired and over the years from there even as a young lad often unable to get into see his films I tried to keep up with his work but the man was prolific. It was however Alien that cemented Hurt in my mind forever in a scene that’s a classic in horror cinema.

From there Hurt seemed to pop up everywhere from the splendid Elephant Man, to even taking the piss out if his death in Alien in Mel Brooks Spaceballs.

Hurt dabbled with science fiction often his role as Winston Smith in 1984 is for me, utterly perfect, and although he ended up doing stuff like Harry Potter and Doctor Who, this just showed how astonishingly a versatile actor he was.

So cheerio to John Hurt, we quite literally will never see another like him again.

What I thought of HyperNormalisation

HyperNormalisation is the new film by documentary film-maker Adam Curtis. It is the story of the last 40 years and how politics have failed to deal with the modern world, both real and cyber, and how the left have capitulated against the swarm that is capitalism and neo-liberalism. It also about how science fiction has shaped the 21st century as ideas from American and Soviet science fiction have been adopted by major world powers to ensure people are constantly confused and unable to present an attack against right wing politics or present a workable alternative.

It sounds extraordinarily dense. In places it is, but this is probably Curtis’s most straightforward work in some time as there’s a clear line of narrative from the death of politics as we think it still to be (big ideas, politicians with big, brave ideas changing things for the better even against public opinion) to where we are now with politicians acting as managers as banks and corporations actually run things in a system of free market economics. So Curtis plots a path from the broken New York of the the 1970’s, explaining how Donald Trump took advantage of the city’s bankruptcy, through to Patti Smith, Lybia and Syria, while skimming 911, the War on Terror, Tony Blair, the failure of the Occupy movement, Brexit and back to Trump running for president today.

But there’s two bits of SF that are crucial to this. One is the works of William Gibson, the writer of books like Neuromancer and creator of the term cyberspace.The other is a work of Soviet SF called Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky which was later filmed as Stalker. In both the book (which I’ve not read) and the film (which is excellent) there are ”Zones’, sites where reality is always shifting and where people known as ‘Stalkers’ can flit between our world and the Zones. The Stalker in the story was a once idealistic man who lost his faith in the system which has seen him move between the world we know and the world of the Zones where reality is fluid.

The ideas in Roadside Picnic/Stalker were adapted by the government of Vladimir Putin to be used in politics, so Curtis reveals how Putin would fund pro and anti government groups as well as things like anti-Nazi and neo-Nazi groups which meant nobody in Russia knows who is really who, or where the truth is as everything is fluid. Reality is always changing. The left wing/liberal radicals of the 1970’s and 80’s rather than take this on either walked away into Cyberspace or were the roots of the Occupy movement who singularly failed to achieve anything important as by now most people were living in echo chambers as their lives were controlled by algorithms on social media.

The entire thesis of HyperNormalisation is utterly terrifying. Politics has failed, so Prime Ministers and Presidents are now just managers, opposition parties are helping manage expectations and any real radical ideas are doomed to fail when they fall into echo chambers created by the very tools which helped them grow in the first place. Meanwhile the forces of neoliberalism are in control but that things like Brexit and Trump are supposed revolts against the system that’s grown up over the last 40 years but aren’t. Politicians can lie, so take say Boris Johnson. Nothing he says is real. We have no idea what his real position is on anything but he’s created enough confusion to help him achieve his goals yet what exactly are his goals? See also Trump or Farage or any number of politicians who simply cannot be trusted.

Truth is therefore not relevant anymore. We live in a Zone where reality is always shifting, always bending yet the radicals, the liberals and the left can’t fight it because they’re lost in the internet being exposed to only those views that agree with there own so any resistance is futile. We have essentially been assimilated by the Borg.

The world is a big complex thing. Big ideas are complex. Take leaving the EU, that is amazingly complex, but that was reduced to a lie on the side of a bus.

brexitlie

Yet algorithms can’t judge for the utterly unexpected as this clip from the film shows.

Brexit wasn’t supposed to happen. It did. Now we’re seeing people who spent months arguing against it cross into the Zone to support it. We have Theresa May who is going for the hardest Brexit possible yet she was supposed to be in favour of staying. The post-truth world means for one to succeed they have to shed all principles and be open to be assimilated by the new reality. The rest of us arguing against these people struggle because we cling onto principles and ideas while inhabiting echo chambers in our safe spaces meaning we can never know how the other side thinks. All truth is lies. All lies are truth.

We are all trapped in management theory, which is essentially being trapped into a meaningless system we all know is false, meaningless and leads to nothing but we stick to it because it gives us money to do our real job which is to spend that money to keep the economy running, and therefore the entire system working. Supposed radicals rather than imagine a new system, or propose new ideas have become part of that system as much as say, Donald Trump. Yet the veneer of difference; the tattoos, beards, craft beers, Great British Bake Off, is creating a twee playground for people who in past generations would be radicals have retreated into a safe world of hashtags.

Curtis’s vision is grim. It is also massive. I’m only really touching on part of what’s discussed, but for me personally the idea that a Soviet piece of science fiction may well be the thing that shaped the modern world is amazing to think of. What however isn’t taken account of is what’s unleashed by those random events nobody can predict, so Brexit and the increasingly far right politics coming out of it, or Trump’s increasingly unhinged rhetoric in the US. The system is massive and finely tuned, yet it isn’t left wing radicals that’s broken it, it’s the right that’s destroyed it because make no mistake, the system for the UK is now broken and we’re not going to leave til 2019 at least.

HyperNormalisation is a challenging work that’s apart from being Curtis’s most linear work, is also his most accessible in some time. This is a film telling the story of the last 40 years up to a point where things are on the verge of either being sheered up for generations to come, or for the system to collapse in a way that is going to unleash hell for those of us at the eye of the storm. It’s available on iPlayer but I do wish this was on terrestrial TV as it deserves a mainstream audience which helps prove a point that society and culture is retreating into echo chambers and any challenging views are sidelined. It’s nearly three hours of your life. It isn’t a wasted three hours, and in fact probably deserves at least another viewing to take it all in as there’s going to be things I’ve missed, but this is the most important bit of television you’re likely to see this year.

A word about the launch of That’s Not Current and my reviews

Over the last months or so the amount of reviews on my blog have been culled to a few every Wednesday for new comics, the odd film or telly programme and that’s it. This blog has developed more into talking about the ongoing treatment of my cancer and my stroke recovery, politics, and a load of other stuff.

I’ve not stopped writing reviews, instead they’ve been funnelled to That’s Not Current which has been going on in a sort of beta form for a few months, but has its official launch. We have a video and everything

I’m especially proud of my Killing Joke review which was written in around 30 very angry minutes. I’ve also noticed I add the word ‘frankly’ into my reviews far too much because of this spoof Twitter account getting stuck in my head. Vile, frankly.

So go check it. There’s loads of stuff of mine on there, and will be coming soon. This probably isn’t the only other site I’ll be doing stuff for in the present and future (more on that another time) but on the whole I’m quite proud of my rambling, sweary politics filled reviews.

Go look now! Spread the word!

A word of appreciation for Star Trek: The Next Generation

A friend said on Facebook the other day that I’m perhaps too locked into talking about depressing miserable things like Brexit, and perhaps do something a wee bit more uplifting and here it is! A quick appreciation of in my eyes, the programme that refined Science Fiction on American television, Star Trek: The Next Generation (STNG).

stng

From 1987 to 1994 STNG managed to turn American SF from something locked into episodic aliens/monsters of the week plots into something different by adopting a few things. The main thing it did was to turn programmes like this into soap operas, though from the first season it’s hard to see how it could become a success at anything as the first season is complete and utter crap with only a handful of episodes having any substance or quality at all.

I’ve been in and out of hospital of late so I’ve had the time to go back over all seven seasons as they’ve been recently added on Netflix, so all of STNG is fresh to me. Watching the first season is an easy task as so many episodes were terrible but a few stand out, and although the second season is better (the introduction of the Borg, a genuine threat to add real drama), it’s still mainly quite poor. It isn’t until the third season that STNG starts to really click and it’s here the soap opera of later seasons really starts to form, which isn’t a bad thing. Soap operas can be used to tell stories relating to people’s lives (Eastenders and Brookside are two examples of such programmes that did that very well back in the day) and science fiction can deal with current affairs in ways more palatable to an audience than say, a Ken Loach film. Combining both seems a simple idea yet for STNG it was groundbreaking and managed to form the basis of its third to seventh seasons where some of the best SF drama on American television was broadcast.

Of course it helps the cast were good solid actors, but with Patrick Stewart they had a then fairly hidden gem and his Captain Jean Luc Picard was the bedrock on which the entire programme rested, and Stewart also helped the programme work through some terrible scripts, even in the good years. When he had great scripts though he shone and the cast (who are all good solid, if unspectacular actors) raised themselves in accordance with what Stewart was doing.

By the end of seven seasons STNG had changed from a pretty poor SF series to a full-on drama series which was science fiction, and that in its own way helped change American TV and helped push it towards looking at SF with less contempt that it used to. As for the spin off series that followed STNG they have their good points, but it is with STNG for me that Star Trek hit its full potential for greatness and it’s a joy to be able to revisit some fine pieces of television again on Netflix.

The X-Files have returned and the truth is still out there

Last night in the US, the series that helped changed American television towards the path it’s taken returns. The X-Files was the next step in the evolution of American television drama after Twin Peaks (a series also returning next year), and indeed, they share similar DNA but the X-Files enjoyed mainstream success for most of the 1990’s and brought genre television into the fore.

Created by Chris Carter and starring David Duchovny as FBI agent Fox Mulder, and Gillian Anderson as her partner Dana Scully, the pair investigated a variety of phenomena each week. The series itself faded after it’s fifth year as Duchovny grew tired and Anderson clung on for a few last seasons but the entire thing petered out, with only a film (The Truth is Out There) to show for the last decade or so of X-Files action for fans.

Part of the problem with the series originally is the entire alien mythology storyline became exceptionally complex mainly as Carter and his writers were making it up as they were going along, so it got to a point that only the diehard fan knew what was going on. The first episode of the new series decides to do away with that at the start by creating an entirely new mythology off the back of the Roswell Incident which is a great idea. It starts things fresh for old and new viewers but throughout the episode it ends up being so convoluted not to mention begins to reference episodes from the original run that I wondered what was the point of starting fresh in the first place?

So this first episode is a mythology story. It’s meant to draw us back in (and remember, most people gave up on the programme long before it ended so they missed things like Scully having a child, something heavily referenced here) and for the first 15 or so minutes it does. The plot revolves a Fox News type presenter, Tad O’Malley, who is rich, powerful, and far more right wing not to mention more insane than Mulder. He’s primarily there to offer lots, and lots of exposition. There’s also an odd subplot where he’s trying to charm Scully but he’s so plastic, charmless not to mention mental, that it’s just a wasted bit of airtime. In fact the main plot is just head-spinning conspiracy nonsense that links Roswell, 911, alien abductions, Edward Snowden, and anything else that you can imagine.

Over the course of 45 minutes Scully and Mulder get back together, Chief Skinner stands in a doorway looking concerned and serious, not to mention there’s also mysterious men telling Mulder that his exposition is nearly right but he’s not quite there. In short, for all it’s promising start it quickly develops into a typical mythology episode but by the end The X-Files are reopened, and the status quo has been returned, meaning Mulder and Scully are back in the FBI to investigate the weird.

That at least offers the hope things improve in the second episode when the revival moves onto individual stories seperate of the mythology episodes which was the series real strength.I only hope in the next episode Anderson and Duchovny look a wee bit more interested in some of the lines they’re spouting in this first episode that doesn’t really work as a re-introduction. It’s not all terrible. There are good moments especially in the first 15 minutes which is the strongest part but it falls apart too quickly and ends in a rush.

All that said, I’ll be back for the rest of it. The X-Files when it was good was superb, but when it was a bit shite, it stunk. So, not a great start but it is nice to have Mulder and Scully back so better writers than Chris Carter can get to use them again.