Babylon 5: Soul Mates

b5I’m getting bummed about the non-JMS episodes at this point.  I didn’t notice it when watching the show, but for these write-ups, I want to get into the big story arc but I feel like we’re spinning around the main stuff.  On the plus side, we’re getting all the lesser stories out of the way.  For this entry, well-known scifi author Peter David brings us a story that is largely character driven and does very little for the for the main plot.  What we get is another B5 2-plot story, one focusing on Talia (why?) and one focusing on Londo and his wives (fun!).  But this is one of those where the twain meet.

Londo’s wives, formerly identified as Pestilence, Famine, and Death, are introduced.  Timov (I just noticed as I typed this, her name is vomit backwards!) is by far the most annoying, but it’s Mariel that is the most intriguing.  She’s “death” and rather apt considering she gives Londo the gift that nearly kills him.  The question is, was the whole thing planned?  Talia’s ex-lover Stoner did bring the artifact onto the station and claims it was safe.  Maybe that is true, but he’s so slimy, it’s hard to know if he’s telling the truth.   Then there’s the issue of G’kar, who has some history with Mariel.  How??  Moreover, I didn’t notice it during my first viewing but I had read an interesting debate about this episode and I’d never forgotten it: what did G’kar throw to Mariel?  I assumed it was a grape because he was eating them at the time, but is it possible that he threw her the poison darts to use with the statue?

Consider that: G’kar knows something is up with the shadows, even if the exact nature is not known to him.  He can see war is coming, and as I’ve alluded to before, if his wives are Pestilence, Famine and Death, doesn’t that make Londo War?  So G’kar could be responsible for it.  But considering he seems to be genuinely puzzled, claiming to get headaches from puzzles, I never thought that during my 1st (or second, or possibly even 3rd) viewing.  But I did wonder about it this time around.  And look, perhaps G’kar and Mariel met at some previous diplomatic function.  We just don’t know but the clandestine nature of the meeting does make one wonder.  It seems like something more than just a casual rendezvous.

The Stoner storyline is only good because of Garibaldi’s reaction.  Fact is, I wanted to cast him out of an airlock too.  I’m not surprised that he and Talia got along because both of them have a quality I really don’t like.  I wish Talia would develop a personality and not be all throaty seductress in the way she talks and acts, and Stoner is … a jerk.  There’s nothing else to say for it.

So the only other thing that needs to be addressed in this otherwise simple episode is a throwaway line.  Delenn asks about pain she’s having now that she is part human.  In other words, she gets cramps.  You know, cramps!  As in, menstrual.  What does this mean about her ability to have a child?  Can she have a kid with a human parent?   In my notes, this was the one thing I underlined repeatedly about this episode.   Or is it just a chance to add a little humor to a Talia-heavy episode?    ML

The view from across the pond:

It’s a bit unfortunate to say the least to have to suffer two Talia episodes in a row.  This episode even got my hopes up that she might be leaving, but alas ’twas not to be.  She did put something into perspective though, accidentally shining a light on why I think the character doesn’t work:

If you take away my talents I don’t know what would be left.

All the other characters in B5, with the exception of the irritating doctor, give us some reason to enjoy watching them.  That might be that they are interesting characters, well acted, or both.  Not so with Talia.  She is just there because she’s the telepath on the station, and that’s it.  There’s nothing to enjoy, no reason to want to watch her, no personality as such beyond slightly-stroppy-telepath.  So that quote was actually rather profound for all the wrong reasons.  If taking away a character’s ability means they would be devoid of all interest or likeability, then they are a plot device rather than a person, and that’s shoddy characterisation.

Fortunately there are a couple of factors making things a lot better than the prospect of a Talia episode would normally offer.  Her ex is really, really creepy, in a great bit of villain acting from Keith Szarabajka.  Also, we’re right back in the story-of-the-week variety of B5, with an A plot and a B plot (there’s even a very thin C plot with Delenn’s bad hair day).

The B plot is much more interesting and fun.  Playing on the theme of the week (bad marriages), Londo invites his three wives to a party and drops a bombshell that he has permission to divorce two of them.  The minute two of them starting sucking up to him and the other just kept being her honest, combative self, it became blindingly obvious who he was going to pick.  A bit of basic maths solves that one.  But it was still amusing seeing the inevitable conclusion play out, with some whodunit Agrippina-ish shenanigans along the way.  Even without needing to find out who had saved his life, Londo was smart enough to figure out who he can trust:

Because with you I will always know where I stand.

So this was a parable episode.  Honesty pays off.  Scheming and faking affection doesn’t.  In a neat parallel, Stoner’s manipulation and dishonesty didn’t pay off either.

One final thought.  I’m all for episodes ending on a light-hearted joke or whatever (although American television has a rather annoying history of ending episodes of shows with somebody making a wisecrack and everyone laughing for a bit of enforced merriment, which always looks horribly staged), but did B5 really need to sink so low as to end an episode with a joke about periods?  Maybe try something about shampoo or conditioner next time?   RP

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Prisoner of the Judoon

potjSeason 3 of The Sarah Jane Adventures opens with Prisoner of the Judoon, capitalizing on the popularity of a Doctor Who monster and adding some extras to it along the way.  It’s actually a really surprising episode: while there’s no explicit morality message, we get a mix of comedy and action with the whole cast getting some screen time.

The story starts off with a visual treat as Sarah Jane offers another of her monologues about the wonders of the universe and the merits of keeping your eyes and mind open; two traits I really respect, I might add!  Then the story settles on the gang as an alien ship is crashing to earth.  UNIT take over finding the ship itself, but Sarah Jane and company are looking for the life pod and the crew that it carried.  In other words, police Captain Tybo, the Judoon, and his prisoner, Androvax the Annihilator.  Androvax is a Veil lifeform and can hide inside the body of another… by stepping into them.  Now, like a Babylon 5 episode, this story seems to have a B plot too.  Gita and Haresh (Rani’s parents) are going to market Gita’s flower business by giving some plants to the local Nanotech factory.  This leads to a comical adventure for them, in the same building as her daughter merging the two plots quite enjoyably.

Ok, so that’s the idea behind it. Does writer Phil Ford surprise us again?  Absolutely.  But are the issues?  A few.  First, Androvax is inhabiting Sarah Jane’s body while in her attic.  Mr. Smith, the alien computer, knows Sarah Jane is possessed.  Does he do anything about it, like put her in a confinement beam like we saw in last seasons finale?  Not a bit of it!  I call that an oversight.  Like old Batman episodes, it’s poor form to introduce an ability that you promptly ignore for all subsequent episodes.  And I can’t help but wonder what happens after the episode when Mr. York goes to the police to explain how Sarah Jane Smith did so much damage to his labs.  (There would be record of her coming in, so it would be hard to dispute!)  On the other hand, the victories are marvelous.  Sarah Jane, pre-Androvax, is speaking to what she believes is a scared little girl who saw a “monster”.  Sarah Jane explains, “aliens are people just like us… not monsters”.  Bravo!  Let’s help overcome xenophobia, I say!  And when Clyde helps Captain Tybo up after he collapses, Clyde notices how bad his breath is.  I point this out because Ford could have ignored that, but instead he builds a larger world by adding what most people wouldn’t even think to comment on.

There’s also some really great comedy too, although some of it is subtle.  Rani is on the phone with Sarah Jane and tells her that the Judoon is “going to be alright.”  Clearly, she’s no medic; the Judoon is stumbling around in the background looking distinctly not alright!  I am torn on the police scene; I did laugh but I felt it was poorly done for the comedy, but I forget, the police of the UK don’t carry guns.  That same scene could not have happened here.  And there’s a brief moment where Clyde gets a glare from the Judoon which is very subtle, and very funny.  And at the end of part two, when the Judoon are walking their prisoner out, they pass Gita and Haresh but stop to tell them, “nothing to see!”

But there was a lot to see. Let’s not forget the nanoform-built spaceship.  Doctor Who had an animated story starring David Tennant called Dreamland.  (Again, Chris Chibnall really needs lessons in storytelling from the writers of this series!)  Here, we see that same alien ship, complete with the same power supply from the animated episode along with some beautiful chromework.  The interior of the ship was stunning.  I could have done without Lis Sladen’s silly alien-possessed voice or the tongue lashing, but overall the episode made for a great season opener. Screen time for the whole cast, Judoon, and Androvax… although, like most SJA villains, he is one of the polite ones.  After the Judoon have captured him, they needn’t even handcuff him; he just comes along quietly.  So polite!  If this is any indication of what’s to come, I think we’re in for another fantastic season!  ML

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Kamelion the Un-robot

Bizarrely, not a man in a robot costume.

Companion Tropes 37

There have been plenty of missed opportunities in the history of Doctor Who, but Kamelion probably stands out as the most wasteful of all.  He had an introductory story and then almost precisely one year later he was written out.  Between those two points he was Doctor Who’s un-robot.

An un-person, which is the trope I am referencing here, is a character who disappears from a series without explanation.  When this happens due to issues behind the scenes, it is also referred to as “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome”, named after a character from Happy Days who disappeared from the show.  So what happened with Kamelion?  Why did he become an un-robot?

The whole idea behind Kamelion was bizarre to start with.  When John Nathan-Turner took over as Doctor Who’s producer, he was keen to write out K9.  It therefore seems a little odd that the decision was ever made to introduce what would have been another robot buddy, albeit one in the shape of a man rather than a dog.  I suspect the idea of a working robot as one of his “actors” appealed, with the resulting publicity something like that would bring, but in reality it just didn’t work.  Even technology in 2019 is probably not sufficiently advanced to bring a character like Kamelion to the screen without an actor in a costume.  It certainly wasn’t in 1983.  To give everyone making this at the time their due, Kamelion was a stunningly ambitious idea for 1983, and to get anything on screen at all using an actual talking robot was a remarkable achievement, but as a way of making Doctor Who it was unsustainable.

Now, anyone with the IQ of a prune can see two possible ways Kamelion could have continued as a character in Doctor Who, so it baffles me that nobody figured this out at the time:

  1. Swap the robot prop for an actor in a robot suit, or even better…
  2. Have the prop on screen for the first few seconds of each story, and then have it shapeshift into the Kamelion actor of the week.

Seriously, did nobody notice Kamelion is a shapeshifting robot?  What a gift that is to writers and casting directors.  Kamelion could have ended up as a character that attracted major actors, like the Doctor himself, but with the added bonus that they only needed to find a few weeks in their schedule and move on.  Imagine the publicity.  This week, Kamelion will be played by…

But instead he gets forgotten.  There was originally going to be a short scene in The Awakening to remind viewers he was still on board the TARDIS, but really, what would have been the point?  Why remind viewers about a character you have no intention of using?

So yes, a bit of a shame, and I do think Kamelion represents a wider missed opportunity in Doctor Who in general: the lack of a shapeshifting character.  Frobisher (a shapeshifting penguin) was great in the DWM comic strips and maybe it’s time to bring this kind of a character to our screens.  The technology is certainly there, and not just for one actor turning into another.  The list of Doctor Who’s 21st Century companions so far goes something like this:

Human, human, human, human, human, human, human, human, human, human, human, human, human.

Maybe it’s time for a different approach.  It would be fun to see “shapeshifter” added to that list.  For one exciting moment in 1983, it looked like we were going to get one, and then he turned into an un-robot.   RP

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primevalI had to take a long drive for work which lead to one specific thing: for the first time in months, I saw the CD case before I put the CDs into the player!  Now, this wasn’t a big deal because I had absolutely no memory of the story but since I was seeing the cover, I thought I’d see what nice surprise the inside casing had for me.  A few of them have really offered an added bonus to each release, so what the heck, I’ll see what this one has…  Oh.  It’s a blinding light.  Just… light.  Well, ok then… let’s just listen and see what happens in Primeval.  (For the record, that same blinding light on the cover, takes up the whole insert of the CD, but it’s in black and white now, to really illustrate how bright it is… I think!)

The story opens with Nyssa unconscious and possibly dying and the Doctor looking for help.  Ironic, really.  Had it not been for the careful placement in my car CD player, I would have wondered if perhaps I was starting on CD 2 (episode 3).  The Doctor has taken Nyssa to Traken in the Primeval era where superstition and god worship are still en vogue.  This is before Traken would have a keeper for the “Sauce”.  (I know, they’re saying “Source” but when audio is all you have, you pick up on little things.  Suddenly I think Traken is where McDonald’s gets its secret Sauce!)   When the Doctor is unable to get help because the primatives of Traken believe that evil is soemthing you can pass on like a disease, he is forced to negotiate with Traken’s version of the Devil.  The audience soon discovers that this devil is actually the cause of Nyssa’s sickness.    He will help the Doctor but it involves a trick to get to the Source.

So, right off the bat, I think Sutton and Davison are just a great pairing.  I’m probably biased by the fact that I met Sutton and she’s utterly delightful, but they just work so well together.  The cliffhangers in this story are a mix, but it’s the first one where the Doctor looks upon the face of Kwundaar that actually impressed me so much; this is a powerful creature.  The Doctor’s confidence is misplaced and he screams in terror.  It’s a shocking moment.  Stephen Greif is the voice of Kwundaar and while he’s very good, the effect used for his bizarre voice destroys episode two’s cliffhanger totally.  I even put it on the computer when doing this write-up to see if I could figure out what he says, but it’s something like “… and then, equarry!”  What?  I’ll rewind.  Nope.  “We’ll carry it?”  Nope… no idea.  I have no idea why episode 2 ended as a tense moment, becuase I can’t make out what was being said.  I don’t normally have an issue with the voices.  I mean, context clues can help, but this one just left me clueless.  And that’s a shame.  I find episode 2 cliffhangers are usually the strongest.

There’s also a bit where the Doctor and Nyssa, now somewhat recovered after Kwundaar’s duplicitious help, have to go for a swim to access the Source.  The Doctor takes his clothes in a bag with him while Nyssa (remember, she was sick) has to walk around in her wet swim suit.  When the Doctor is called out on it, he says “What did you think was in the bag?  Sorry, no room for yours [clothes]!”  At this, I had to laugh!  Imagine if this were on television?  Why would he think to take his and not hers, especially since she was the one who was sick before?  Ah, I know, it must be the healing properties of walking around wet and nearly naked!  Duh!  How forgetful of me.

When everything the Doctor does seems to be failing, the episode really had me wondering if I had forgotten about a second part to this story, but it is resolved in the end and, at that, wonderfully.  It’s one of those great victories when the Doctor turns the tables, but the defeat of Kwundaar is a bit sudden.  One second the Doctor is offering Kwundaar the chance to leave, and then Kwundaar is dead!  I thought I’d fallen asleep but I was driving and was not wrapped around a pole, so I think I was awake the whole time.  The Doctor introduces the planet to the idea of a Keeper of the Source (sauce?) and Traken of the future is ensured.  (Well, until the Master bungles his plans and wipes out that part of the universe!)

Primeval is a bit like Keeper of Traken – it deals with the battle between superstition and science.  The whole allegory of the light of the source vs the devil that can’t go into the light is even more blatant than Keeper but perhaps it offers more action.  It’s also of note that the Trakenites know the Source is a machine, even if a perfect one, but they do not seem to worship it.  Instead they worship a god that isn’t the Source.  I found that weird and a bit counterintuitive for an episode that is so heavily alligorical otherwise.  Still, this would have made a delightful visual episode to accompany Keeper because it would have given us some theological allegory, the history of the Source – including the first Keeper, Nyssa in a bathing suit, and a Trakenite learning the Charleston.  (Yes, that happens!)  What more could we have wanted?  Well, maybe a McDonald’s sandwich!  ML

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Konohana Kitan

Not your average psycho doll.

Do you like naked lesbian fox girls?  Then you’ve come to the right place.  And you know what?  That’s a bit of a shame.  Anime series like Konohana Kitan can so easily get written off as fanservice trash for pervs, and that’s a deeply unfair judgement on what is actually a fascinating, spiritual series.

What attracted me to this series was not the naked lesbian fox girls (honest) but the similarity of the premise to Spirited Away.  That’s because both of them are rooted in the Shinto faith.  In Konohana Kitan there are at least three different plains of existence: the mortal world, and world of the afterlife and the gods, and the places that connect the two together.  In that gap between mortal and heavenly exists Konohanatei, a spa hotel that receives visitors from the mortal and heavenly plains.  Working there are a group of fox girls, and much of the series is told from the perspective of their newest recruit, Yuzu.

The series has its origins in a manga that was serialised in a yuri magazine, “yuri” being the term for manga or anime with a lesbian theme.  Some of that crosses over into the anime, with a couple of very gentle romances, although it is all very innocent and there is not much character development in that direction.  Instead the series focuses on a new story each week, sometimes two per episode.  This tends to be about the latest visitor to the hotel.

The direction of travel of a lot of the visitors tends to be those who need to pass from the mortal world to the afterlife, so there are some very poignant moments.  There are also those who have arrived in Konohanatei by chance or accident, and gods visiting occasionally as well on special occasions.  Generally each story is wrapped up by the end of the episode, but there are a couple that have an impact on the whole series.  The most important of these is the introduction of sentient doll Okiku who ends up joining the staff as a regular character, and it’s actually the best storyline of the whole series.

At first it’s played for scares, very briefly.  You’ve probably seen films like Annabelle (and there are also some great live action Japanese examples of the genre), and Okiku is that kind of a character, neglected by her owners and bearing a grudge.  The fox girls almost immediately burst the bubble of her power to inspire fear.  That simply won’t work in Konohanatei, and instead they set about dressing her up and doing her hair, and finally she has a place she belongs.  That’s a big theme of the series, finding where you belong, and Yuzu in particular follows a path from newbie staff member to somebody who can call Konohanatei her home.  The final episode goes all timey wimey, exploring the origins of Konohanatei itself, and it’s enormously clever.

The further we get through the series the less fanservice there is.  Most of the early episodes have scenes where the fox girls are bathing together at the end of the day, which I suppose is perfectly justified by the spa hotel setting, and it’s not especially gratuitous compared to some anime fanservice episodes.  But as the series progresses it seems like there is perhaps so much confidence in the quality of the stories being told that the necessity for fanservice to boost popularity is diminished, and these scenes become far rarer.

Despite some very compelling storylines and a great cast of characters, I found it difficult to quite connect emotionally to Konohana Kitan in the way that I have for many other anime series.  I think that comes down to the story-of-the-week format.  There is limited character development throughout the series, with the attraction between Natsume and Ren static throughout, and the same applies to Yuzu and Satsuki after the first couple of episodes.  Apart from Yuzu feeling like Konohanatei is her home by the end of the series, all the characters are basically where they started.  There’s not really a progression, and that’s something that could do with being addressed if there’s ever a second series.  But because Konohana Kitan drops the ball on character development across its 12 episodes, I suspect we’re unlikely to be revisiting Konohanatei any time soon.  Nonetheless, I would be very happy to be proved wrong about that.

I’ll leave you with the trailer for the DVD release.  I have only seen the subtitled version, so I’m very tempted to buy this to enjoy the dubbed version.  It might just be worth revisiting Konohanatei after all…   RP

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Interview: Ian Brooker

auldFrom the Archives: the following interview was originally included on The Doctor Who Review, the precursor to this blog.  It was conducted in 2003.

As a member of a family with such a strong theatrical heritage, was there a weight of expectation on you to become an actor, or was it something you always wanted to do?

There was no expectation at all – as my parents were not involved in the business. My maternal grandmother had grown up in the atmosphere of the theatre at the end of the Victorian age when her grandfather was lessee and manager of the Theatre Royal, Birmingham, and in the Edwardian era when her father was business manager of the Theatre Royal, Shrewsbury. Her uncle was a touring actor-manager, her cousin a child actor – the first Michael in “Peter Pan”, and her great aunt, Dame Madge Kendal – one of the leading actresses of the age and friend of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. However, by the end of the First World War, the connection with the theatre in my direct family line had been lost – although it continued elsewhere in the family.

My desire to act had seemed to me to come from nowhere – as I hadn’t been told about the long line of actors. Although a very shy child, I loved performing and creating characters. Throughout my school career I regularly appeared in plays and often played leads. However, it was when my Grannie died in 1978 – when I inherited her collection of newspaper cuttings and books relating to the theatrical family – that I realised that I was not alone. It made such an impression on me that I decided to research the history of the Birmingham Theatre Royal for my third year dissertation at Birmingham University. I also decided that an actor’s life was for me! Fortunately my parents supported my decision: “If it’s what you want to do and it makes you happy!” they told me. Since 1981 I have come to realise that my ancestors have been on the stage for two hundred and fifty years and it is one of the oldest theatrical families in the country.

How did you get your first acting role?

At junior school along with a host of other children I was cast as a rat in “The Pied Piper” in 1968 – my mother had to make the costume from the material and designs provided. Two years later I graduated to play a dancing Troll in “The Hobbit”. After several years in plays at school, university and in amateur companies, I decided to take the plunge into the profession. I auditioned in the autumn of 1983 and was cast to play Silly Billy in the pantomime “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” on a tour of working men’s clubs in South Wales. It was very tough and rather dire! Not the most auspicious beginning to a career!

Of your many roles for Radio 4 plays, are there any you are particularly proud of or that hold strong memories for you?

I have many happy memories of radio drama. I was very fortunate to act at BBC Pebble Mill with some truly great actors who were approaching the end of their careers such as Peter Jeffrey and Norman Rodway. I had a great time on so many productions, but a few stand out. “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” with Matthew Kelly and Chris Emmett – was an absolute joy; as was “Five Children and IT” with Julia McKenzie; “Nocturne in Blue and Gold” – the story of James Whistler’s famous painting of the bridge over the Thames and the subsequent trial – was a great and moving drama-documentary; Peter Tinniswood’s translation of Eduardo de Philippo’s play “The Monument” with Tom Georgeson; “Watership Down” – a much better production than the animated film. It even won the approval of the author Richard Adams; David Pownall’s play “Façade” with David Tennant and Celia Imrie; and “Mr Foster’s Good Fairy” in which I played my first lead. However, if I had to pick out just one play it would have to be H.G.Wells’ tremendously moving story “The Door in the Wall” in which I played an older man who tried in vain to recapture the joy of his childhood. An absolute gem of a play. It still means a lot to me.

Which actor have you enjoyed working with the most over the years, and is there anyone you would especially like to work with in future?

I have enjoyed working with so many wonderful actors. However, David Tennant was great to work with on the play “Façade” (we met again on Nick Briggs’ series “Dalek Empire III”). I also thoroughly enjoyed working with Derek Jacobi on “Deadline” – a truly memorable production and a great laugh. I was very touched when after completing my scene as The Supreme One/Dalek/Juliet Bravo journalist – Derek Jacobi led the cast in giving me a round of applause.

Of the actors I have worked with regularly, I would say I have most enjoyed working with my colleague and friend Robert Lister – not a household name but a lovely man. There are so many excellent actors out there – some who work regularly and some who hardly work at all – who are not known to the public and probably never will be. It is not always the best that succeed!

One actor I would love to work with is David Warner – whom I have admired for years. This opportunity came recently when Big Finish offered me a role in an audio featuring David Warner. Unfortunately, I was out of the country and couldn’t do it!

Was it always your intention to work mainly in radio rather than television or film, or was that just the way it worked out?

Although I had a talent for character voices from an early age – I used to do all the voices for the Tintin books for my own amusement and had different voices for each and everyone one of my twelve teddy bears – the only opportunities to act were in stage productions – at school, university and in local productions. I loved television from an early age and quite naturally as soon as I was professional wanted to pursue a career in TV and film. A few good roles came my way over the years: Saint Dominic in “Gnostics” opposite Brian Blessed – filmed in Languedoc, France, Henry Carson in “Jupiter Moon”, and featured roles in “Casualty” and “Doctors”. However, I knew that it was radio that offered me the opportunity to utilise my voice talents to the full. Unfortunately, radio was and is notoriously difficult to get into. I tried for several years to be seen by radio producers and when I was auditioned I blew the opportunity through nerves. It was the producer Brian Lighthill (who had directed a number of “Blake’s 7” episodes on TV) who cast me in my first Radio 4 play “Lorna Doone” (adapted by the Doctor Who producer, Barry Letts – with whom I acted in a number of scenes) and from then on I became a regular in radio drama.

Having worked in film, television, theatre and radio, which has been your favourite medium?

It would have to be radio and audio. The reasons are that on TV and film you are largely cast as you appear in real life as the casting directors are not known for their imaginations! If they need an actor to play a part with pink hair – the actor waiting outside in the queue with pink hair will get the job! You are type cast. Television cast-lists today are dominated by a small pool of actors largely drawn from soaps. These actors don’t have to be versatile as the casting directors and the accountants want these actors to continue to play the same character – usually themselves – as they appeared in the soap – for whatever role they are going to play in the future. It’s all about ratings! When a casting director can select any and every type of actor for a part – as there are so many actors available – why bother with the versatile character actor!

There is so much more opportunity in theatre for versatile acting, but it is tremendously hard work for little reward. I have appeared in some wonderful stage productions such as “Neville’s Island” (in which I played Neville) at Harrogate Theatre, and “Two” in which I played all seven male roles in the Polish premiere production in Warsaw. But as you get older you prefer a quiet and easier life.

Radio offers the best of all worlds. As long as you are versatile and have the imagination you can be anyone – a seven year old child, a seventy year old man, thin, fat, a giant, a fairy, an alien from anywhere in the galaxy. There is no physical limit to what you can do. You can be anywhere – on a farmyard near Ambridge, at the destruction of Atlantis, in ancient Rome and on any planet you wish to name. With the voice you can create character, space, movement and physical effort sometimes without moving from the spot. It is the most creative medium. Without costume and set – all you have is your fellow actor(s), a microphone and your voice. And you are in studio between one to four days and then it is all over. At the end of it you have your CD of the play. Beats a theatre tour every time!

How did you originally become involved with Big Finish?

I had been a devotee of Doctor Who since the very beginning in November 1963 and had followed the series up until the end of the Tom Baker years. From the 1990’s I started to collect the videos of the old stories that I remembered and many that I had never watched from other eras. Then in January 2001, I read in DWM about Big Finish’s audio dramas and I sent an e-mail to the person who I thought was in charge: Nick Briggs. I then realised, of course, that Gary was the Supremo. However it was fortuitous that I contacted Nick. Nick requested a voice cassette (containing excerpts from the radio plays I had recorded) which was duly sent. He immediately got back to me to ask if I was available later in the month to record a couple of Doctor Who audios (“Time of the Daleks” and “Embrace the Darkness”) with Paul McGann in Bristol. I was absolutely delighted.

Which has been your favourite Doctor Who role?

It’s difficult to choose only one. It would have to be between ROSM in “Embrace the Darkness”, Surus in “Auld Mortality”, Sydney in “Deadline” and Dr. Hendrick in “UNIT: Snakehead”.

Do you ever need to audition for a part in a Big Finish play, or are they always offered to you?

The parts are offered. Nick and John usually send an e-mail or telephone to enquire as to my availability. It’s the same with radio drama.

How far in advance of recording do you receive the scripts? Is it a case of turn up on the day and read, or do you need to prepare yourself for each performance?

You receive the script about a week before recording. You need to do considerable preparation before you arrive at studio. However, it is always possible that Nick will want you to change a voice or interpretation that you have prepared when in studio. So you have to be prepared to come up with something completely new at the last minute. Nick is an excellent director and I love working for him. In radio and audio some actors have turned up without adequate preparation and it always shows. You can end up wasting precious studio time trying to get a performance out of someone who is either lazy or not up to it. Fortunately this does not happen often.

There have been comments from some areas of fandom that Big Finish should not rely so much on their ‘rep’ of favourite actors. How would you respond to their views?

All directors in theatre, TV, film and radio have their favourite actors – those with whom the director has worked on a number of occasions and who are viewed as the most reliable. You will find that directors in all fields build up a “rep” company and you will either see or hear the same actors again and again. Obviously some fans get tired of the same actors appearing in the cast lists, but if the actors are versatile and constantly creative it shouldn’t matter.

That said I really do not think that as a whole Big Finish rely to a great extent on their so-called “rep”. There was very little crossover between the casts for productions directed by Gary and those by Nick. I tended to work for the most part with Nick and sometimes for John Ainsworth. Gary would use his own actors and cast me only on a couple of occasions when an actor had to drop out of a production at the last moment due to a bereavement or Gary had been let down and the part had to be recast.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, for every negative comment on Outpost Gallifrey such as “I’m really tired of hearing his voice” and “why don’t they cast someone else other than Gary’s/Nick’s friends”, there are plenty of fans who appreciate your work and who would be very disappointed if you disappeared all together.

I am really proud of the work I have done for Big Finish.

What’s next for Ian Brooker?

I’m waiting for the phone to ring.

Some subsequent comments from Ian Brooker:

In my answer to the question re: favourite actors I forgot to mention Geoffrey Bayldon. I loved working with him (on “Auld Mortality” and “Storm of Angels” – he was a delight and full of so many fascinating stories. I was also very excited about meeting Derrin Nesbitt – a favourite villain from my youth!

Interviewer: RP

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The Fanservice Debate: Eromanga Sensei Ep 1

Eromanga Sensei SagiriWelcome to the first in an occasional series looking at the rights and wrongs of fanservice and other questionable content in anime. A warning to start with: this series will have plenty of spoilers and sometimes NSFW discussions and images. Let’s start with the first episode of the edgy anime rom com, Eromanga Sensei.

What’s the deal?

Masamune Izumi is a light novel author. Despite being only 15, he has had a great deal of success, but he doesn’t have the skill to illustrate his own work, so somebody does that for him, an artist with a skill for lewd art known as Eromanga Sensei. During this opening episode he discovers that Eromanga Sensei by a huge coincidence happens to be his little sister Sagiri, who is a shut-in girl who rarely emerges from her bedroom. She also seems to have a bit of a crush on him, but they’re not blood related, so that’s fine… right?

Why it’s not OK.

I’m not going to stand in judgement over another culture, so let’s just say there are some elements that take some getting used to: a couple of kids who have lost their parents, living alone; a 12-year-old girl who never goes to school but nobody seems to mind; a 12-year-old who draws rude drawings for a living but that’s apparently OK. The little sister character has been a staple feature of anime for a long time, and is often a lot of fun, but there is a recent trend to pervert that with a twist of incest, sometimes using a non-blood-related status as a get-out-clause. It’s getting a bit icky. Also, some of the “camera angles” chosen when Sagiri is on screen are questionable.

Why it’s OK.

This is a difficult one without getting into the realms of later episodes, but this series does do some interesting stuff and does it well, and there is restraint shown in terms of the degree of fanservice, at least where Sagiri is concerned. There is also restraint shown in how the relationship between Sagiri and her brother develops. At this early stage the series is already a lot of fun if you can stomach the slightly uncomfortable stuff, and is at times a compelling portrayal of crippling social anxiety. It’s also aspirational to some extent. The main characters have beaten the odds of the loss of their parents and made a success of themselves through hard work and using their talents. The series will continue to show us a cast of young characters who have achieved amazing things. Masamune just wants his little sister to come out of her room so they can be a family, and that’s quite touching, as is the dedication he shows in caring for her, making all her meals. Oh, and the opening and closing songs are both brilliant.   RP

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