Ace and monster rat

Doctor Who – At Childhood’s End Reviewed

It is fair to say that Doctor Who is almost as much a literary world as a television one. Even before Virgin Publishing released the first authorised original novel Timewyrm: Genesys by John Peel in 1991, many fans including myself had followed the Time Lord through the Target novelisations of stories which we thought we would never see on television again. Not to mention the hundreds of pages of fan fiction which had emerged since the Seventies, a handful of whom’s authors would eventually come to create stories for the actual BBC series. So Sophie Aldred’s first novel materialises into an universe already hundreds of books wide. So it is to her credit (and that of Mike Tucker and Steven Cole, who she openly credits as collaborators in the acknowledgements) that it is an enjoyable read that tells a fast-paced space opera with imaginative new alien races. It also captures her fictional persona Ace perfectly and gets the voices of the current TARDIS crew satisfyingly authentic too.

Ace herself has had a more complicated fictional life than most companions. Her status as the Doctor’s current companion when the show was cancelled in 1989 meant that her adventure across the vortex never had an official conclusion until now. So her history is split into many alternatives across books, comics and audios. She’s had heroic deaths, tragic deaths. Grown up to be a hardened space marine, grown old by the Doctor’s side. Settled down in 19th century Paris, or become Earth’s Champion with her own time-travelling motorbike, or a myriad others. Cleverly this novel addresses these alternatives without become bogged down in trying to reconcile them, before setting out to tell its own story of what Ace did next, inspired by suggestions by ex-showrunner Russell T Davis. Davis had said in an interview in Doctor Who Magazine that if he had stayed for a fifth season, an Ace reunion story might have been on the cards, with Ace as a wealthy charity boss whose slick businesswoman facade would have cracked to reveal the baseball bat wielding rebel she still was underneath.

I was a little concerned that the opening chapters of the book read too much like a wish fulfillment fantasy. Ace is a billionaire who lives in a gleaming London skyscraper penthouse, drives an eco-friendly prototype sports car, and has her own secret ‘batcave’ laboratory workshop of gadgets and alien tech. In addition, she owns a global charity organisation called A Charitable Earth and her best friend is a supermodel actress called Chantelle. Frankly if she was anyone other than Ace, this is the kind of character the reader would automatically suspect of being too good to be true. She also has Will, a handsome ex-boyfriend who happens to be in charge of the British Space Programme. So when a large mysterious alien ship appears in the solar system, she’s soon powering into space to rendezvous with it. They do this with the aid of ‘squidget’, a glowing lump of semi-intelligent Plasticine which like the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver can basically do anything the authors need to keep the plot moving, from turning a humble shuttle into a faster than light spacecraft, to interfacing with the TARDIS.

Once Ace and Will investigate the alien artifact, they soon run into the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan, who are exploring themselves. Happily the Doctor’s change of gender is dealt with in a couple of sentences and the interactions between Ace and this new TARDIS gang form a major part of the emotional material. We soon find out that Ace and the Doctor parted on unhappy terms and its interesting to see this seemingly more grounded and empathetic Doctor, really struggling with reconnect with her old friend. Meanwhile the two men take Ace pretty much at face value, but Yaz finds her policewoman’s suspicions and sense of right and wrong twanging by an individual who seems to live entirely by her own rules and keeps Nitro 9 explosives handy. It’s great to see Yaz showing some grit and her arc is one of most interesting. Meanwhile there’s some gentle comedy for Ryan when he meets Chantelle, one of his pin-ups, in the flesh.

By this time the storyline is properly underway, with two new enemy alien races introduced – shape changing rat henchmen the Ratts,and a warrior race of centaurs with horse-shaped heads called the Astingir. The latter could be criticised as being essentially that Klingon trope of soldiers who talk about honour and codes a lot. Nevertheless they are well motivated and described, whilst the Ratts are successfully written as pretty unsettling. The authors have created a story that reaches back to the time storm which abducted Ace in the first place and features numerous call backs to other Doctor Who stories of many medias, without feeling off-puttingly fannish and derivative. The action is well described and the writing propels along at a good pace. The rest of the supporting cast are well sketched in with a few lines.

With a moody, effective cover, this is definitely one of the most pleasurable of the Doctor Who tie-in books related to the 21st century series I have read. I would definitely be interested if this same team chose to write another, either more Ace adventures or an original creation.

Doctor Who The Aztecs Special Edition DVD

Before we begin this revisit to another of my old ciao.co.uk reviews, a quick note that the latest edition of the Talking Pictures TV podcast is now out. Hosted by Scott Phipps, it features a contribution by myself on the 1979 Quatermass series by Thames. Plus lots of interesting reviews about old British gems like Hobson’s Choice and The Snorkel. Listen to it now at Spotify, iTunes etc or its website. Thank you, now back to the marvellous Hartnell era of Doctor Who.

Two very different adventures for the First Doctor: The Aztecs finds the original TARDIS crew trapped in the Aztec empire at the height of its powers, two years before Cortez would arrive to destroy it. When Barbara is mistaken for a god she tries to use her influence to change history and save this civilisation. Meanwhile Galaxy Four sees the Doctor and two of his later friends, Steven and Vicki, caught between two alien races on a dying planet. The beautiful Dravhin women say they are under attack by the ugly inhumanoid Rill but time travellers begin to suspect otherwise.

The cover for this DVD doesn’t do its contents justice, advertising it as simply an improved version of The Aztecs when in fact it really a double bill that also features a recently recovered episode from the Hartnell  era which forms the centre piece of a restored ‘lost’ story Galaxy Four. The Aztecs was the first William Hartnell story to be released on DVD, in 1992 at a time when fan were still buying stories on VHS to complete their collection. It was a natural choice for the fledgling new line, being generally regarded as one of the gems of his period. At the time its picture and sound restoration was impressive but this new version is even sharper and clearer. In addition there are some new extras.

The Aztecs illustrates many of the best qualities of the Sixties era of the show. Very ambitious in scope, with several entwining sub-plots, not to mention recreating the city of Tenochtitlán in a small studio. The script intelligently deals with the moral dilemmas of twentieth century British values clashing with the South American nation’s very different mindset, especially their acceptance of human sacrifice. There is a little bit of time-travel SF as the Doctor tries to stop Barbara from interfering in established history and an educational aspect as writer John Lucarotti explores this ancient culture. All the regulars are in superb form, even Susan whose sub-plot about becoming the reluctant bride of ‘The Perfect Victim” was devised to give actress Carol Ann Ford a well deserved holiday. There’s even some humour as the Doctor’s ignorance of local custom leads to him becoming accidentally engaged to a gentle Aztec woman called Cameca. The serial also benefits from strong guest performances by John Ringham and Walter Randall as the rival high priests. This is possibly my favourite of all William Hartnell’s stories.

If you were to ask any Doctor Who fan what lost story they would like to be rediscovered, it is unlikely that many of them would have named Galaxy Four. Due to the lack of many photographs, virtually no pictures at all of its star monster the Rills, and coming from a less well regarded period of the programme, this is one of show’s more obscure stories. But that means watching it now there is a delightful element of surprise and discovery. Episode 3 – “Airlock” was recovered from a private collector last year. This has been combined with an existing clip from episode one, the surviving soundtrack and a lovingly made fan reconstruction featuring photoshopped images and new modelwork of the scenes where only the robot Chumblies are involved. The producers have made the wise decision to cut out about a third of the reconstructed footage, resulting in a pacier hour long version of the four part story, which does not harm the plot at all, since the original did feature some padding and repetition as characters go to and fron between the two crashed spacecraft and the TARDIS. If you want to experience the complete version, then you can buy the soundtrack on CD.

Galaxy Four is reminiscent of a Star Trek episode in many ways. It has a simple ‘don’t judge by appearances” moral, studio bound desert planet set and it would easy to imagine Captain Kirk trying to seduce one of blonde Dravhan women. What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in incidental pleasures such as the endearing Chumblies, robot servants of the Rills which look like three bowls stacked on top of each other. Clearly an attempt to create another money spinning character like the Daleks by author William Emms, the Chumblies failed to catch on with the public. Meanwhile the Rills are purposely rather immobile, unable to leave their ship due to the planet’s atmosphere being poisonous to them but they look suitably bizarre and Robert Cartland provides a fruity theatrical voice for them. Best of all is Stephanie Bidmead as Maaga, the ruthless leader of the Dravhans. She’s intelligent, drily self-aware and a bit of a sadist. Her high point is delivering a memorable speech into the camera as she contemplates the forthcoming death of the Rills and the Doctor. Hartnell and Maureen O’Brien make a good team as they explore together, in fact I think this is as good as I’ve ever seen Vicki.

This two disc set comes with a plenty of extras. There are most of the features from the original release: a Blue Peter item with Valerie Singleton visiting the ruins of Tenochtitlan and giving a potted history of Cortez and Montezuma, “Remembering the Aztecs” – interviews with surviving cast members, “Designing the Aztecs” – an interview with designer Barry Newbury and “Making Cocoa” – an amusing animated guide to making the chocolate drink the authentic Aztec way. Also remaining is the option to watch episode 4 with Arabic dubbing as recorded in the sixties and one of the TARDIS Cams, a series of wordless short videos produced by the BBC’s then newly formed online media department in the early Noughties.

The commentary features producer Verity Lambert and actors Carol Ann Ford and William Russell. It’s not that good unfortunately because their specific memories are few and far between, making most of material just comments on what they are watching like three viewers. It was commentaries like this that prompted the DVD makers to start including a knowledgeable fan in the panel for later sixties stories.

As well as Galaxy Four, the second disc features the brand new DVD content. From the BBC2 archives comes an episode of the history series Chronicle. “The Realms of Gold” is wonderful documentary about the story of Cortez and the Aztecs. If it was being made today it would have dramatic reconstructions, CGI and a booming score. There’s something rather relaxing about its more academic tone, with contemporary illustrations, maps, location filming and an austere score by the Radiophonic Workshop. Also from the library comes what is almost certainly the first Doctor Who TV comedy sketch, a clip from Michael Bentine’s “It’s a Square World” featuring Clive Dunn dressed as The Doctor, playing a rocket scientist.

Many people who buy Doctor Who DVD’s are collecting the whole set. This has encouraged the makers to make several multi-part documentaries spread across several titles. “Doctor Forever!” is taking a look at the wider world of Doctor Who as a phenomenon. This episode is about the merchandise. It’s a subject that could easily fill an hour but this twenty minute feature covers a fair amount of ground, from Sixties Dalekmania to today’s highly detailed action figures. Some of the more unusual items are looked at too, such as the TARDIS Tuner and Tom Baker underpants. It’s one of my favourite features in the package. “A Whole Scene Going” was a Sixties magazine programme and there’s a report on the making of the second Dalek film, including a rare interview with Gordon Flemmyng.

This year there are several special editions of the older Doctor Who DVD titles coming out but this one is I think is the most worthwhile. Well recommended.

Doctor Who – Colony in Space DVD Review

As gorgeous as the new Doctor Who Collection blurays are, one of the strengths of the DVD releases was that, for one month, nearly story, regardless of reputation, got its moment in the sun. The center of a collection of DVD extras, memories and artwork. Because there are some adventures that otherwise might always be the roughage of a season, a spacer between other more celebrated titles. Colony in Space is such a serial. The most six-parterly of Pertwee six-parters,

The Master has stolen the Time Lord’s secret files about a legendary weapon hidden on the planet Uxarieus. So they take control of the TARDIS to send the exiled Doctor and Jo Grant on a mission to stop him. Unaware of the true reason for their journey, the pair become embroiled in the conflict between a poor farming colony and a powerful IMC mining exploration team. Uxarieus is also the home a race of primitive tribal warriors who live inside an ancient city of incredible technology, ruled by mutated priests. When the Master arrives in disguise, the Doctor begins to realise that there is a far greater danger than just the ruthless IMC Captain Dent and his troops.

One of my favourite Doctor Who novelisations is Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon by Malcolm Hulke, based on his own script for Colony in Space. It’s full of interesting characters and what makes them so vivid is their back stories, which also illustrate Earth’s future civilisation. It is a grim over-industrialised society where people have little experience of the outside and big corporations rule. It was shock therefore when I finally saw Colony in Space on UK Gold and found that the television version has very little of what made the book great, such as the Doctor showing the colonists how to hold a simple funeral, a ceremony they had little experience of in their automated lives. Instead these episodes are a bit of a plod, with a lot of the Doctor moving back and forth between the three camps, slowly working out a fairly simple story. The characters are all fairly stiff as well, although Bernard Kay gives some colour to his role as a sympathetic IMC mineralogist and Morris Perry is coldly effective as the fascist IMC Captain Dent. Coronation Street icon Helen Worth also appears as Mary, the young daughter of the colonist’s leader.

It doesn’t help that the planet looks so boring. Perversely, the Doctor’s first visit to an alien planet in the colour television era finds him driving through a grey/brown quarry for most of the time. Even the alien city is largely rendered in cramped brown rocky corridors and rooms. The Uxarians are not much to get excited about either. Neither the spear-waving primitives or the gargoyle-like priests can talk and despite Jo Grant screaming when they appear, they never seem like much of a threat either. The shrunken Guardian is another disappointment, a very obvious puppet with an actor’s head poking out on top. Speaking of Jo, it’s interesting to compare her first trip in the TARDIS with those of the more recent companions. Whilst Rose, Clara et al greet the universe with wonder and thinks it really cool, Jo steps out of the TARDIS, wrinkles her nose and is asking to be taken back to UNIT HQ within a couple of minutes!

Colony in Space is essentially a western – homesteaders versus the big cattle baron, with the Uxarians playing the Indians. They even have a couple of shootouts with old fashioned rifles.  Thankfully the story does pick up a little once the Master arrives, played with charming evil by Roger Delgado, but its speed never develops into more than a trot.

This DVD is relatively light on extras. “IMC Needs You!” is framed by some amusing South Park style animation but is otherwise a straightforward making-of doc, with much emphasis on the terrible weather and muddy conditions the team had to endure. Probably the most interesting fact is that the script originally called for Dent to have a ruthless female henchman, but Ronnie Marsh the Head of Serials felt that a woman in a leather uniform shooting people was too kinky for family viewing.  All the contributors seem fairly happy with the resulting episodes.

“From the Cutting Room Floor” – features a collection of outtakes and behind the scenes moments from the location filming. It’s one of the more entertaining examples of this feature, with some nice moments of humour from Delgado and Pertwee.

The commentary is a fairly luvvie one this time. Comedian and television historian Toby Hadoke chairs a discussion with stars Katy Manning, Bernard Kay and Morris Perry being joined by director Michael E Briant, Assistant Director Graham Harper (who in recent years has directed Doctor Who and the Coronation Street tram crash) and script editor Terrance Dicks. It’s a jolly conversation, with some laughs at the show’s expense, which frankly this story deserves.

After that there are the standard photo gallery and information subtitles, whilst Frank Bellamy’s marvellous comic strip in the Radio Times which promoted the first episode can be opened as a PDF. Colony in Space is a very average story and one for the fan completest rather than the casual viewer.

Monoid and young woman

Doctor Who – The Ark

If there is one idea science fiction has taught us, its that huge colony ships crewed by generations of humans are generally a bad idea, prone to all kinds of sociological weirdness. Or in the case of this story, employing an another alien race as your servant class is bound to come back to bite you.

Earth is about to fall into the Sun, so the survivors of the human race have set out in a gigantic colony ship to live on the planet Refusis II. Alongside them for the journey are an alien race called the Monoids, who appear to be happy to work as humanity’s servants. When the Doctor (William Hartnell), Steven (Peter Purves) and Dodo (Jackie Lane) arrive, they accidentally infect the crew with the common cold, a virus that future humanity no longer has any immunity to. Soon it looks as if the whole population will be wiped out. Whilst the Doctor races to find an antidote, he is unaware that his presence will shortly have even more significant and unforeseen effect on the future of the human race.

The Ark is a unique story within the history of the programme, with a twist that must have been a real shock back in 1966. It uses the time travel element of the show in a way that few other stories have, at least until Steven Moffat took over as showrunner. For once it addresses the consequences of the Doctor’s travels and encounters with strange new worlds. Unfortunately aside from that concept, this is a story I enjoyed more for its unintentional humour than its dramatic qualities. A lot of the comedy comes from the monster of the month – the Monoids. They resemble a man sized lizard with a Beatles mop top and a single eyeball in its mouth. It initial appearance is striking but as soon as they start waddling about and using a sign language that resembles a frantic game of charades it is hard to take them seriously. They’re just as funny when they learn to speak and have a charming way of discussing their evil plans out loud, then being surprised when humans hear them. Their leader, simply known as Number One, comes out with one of the show’s most infamous lines, “Take them to the Security Kitchen!”

The humans aren’t much better in their skimpy togas and wooden acting. Of special note is their Commander (Eric Elliot) who delivers every line with a fruity Shakespearian flourish. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at his deathbed scenes. The pace is slow too, even by the standards of the time. Once or twice the cast just literally stands there waiting whilst what looks like an airport truck rolls in slowly and parks.

According to Peter Purves who played Steven, Hartnell was becoming increasingly difficult to work with as a long term illness began to affect his memory.  There’s the odd stumble in his lines but generally for the viewer he is still the Doctor on good form, sometimes imperious and other times quite twinkly. Peter Purves himself is great. This is a good story for Steven who gets to be heroic and take charge in the Doctor’s absence. Meanwhile this was the first full story for Dodo (Jackie Lane) after having arrived at the end of the last story when she mistook the TARDIS for a real police box. She’s quite likeable and makes a good team with Steven, with a pronounced Northern accent, one that swiftly fades over the course of the four weeks it took to make this story. It’s a shame that most of her stories have been junked.

Despite seeing the flaws I do admire the ambition of the serial, creating a vast spaceship with a jungle inside it, the surface of an alien planet, massive statues and shuttlecraft flying through space, all created in a small studio on a budget that wouldn’t pay for one set in the current series.

As is often the way with Hartnell stories, sadly most of the key players are no longer with us to be interviewed. However Peter Purves who played the companion Steven and director Michael Imison are very much alive and join stand-up comedian and fan Toby Hadoke for an affectionate but honest commentary. There are three major DVD extras: “All’s Wells That Ends Wells” is a documentary on H G Wells’ influence on Doctor Who. It’s a nice little piece, although the links with “The Ark” are tenuous. “One Hit Wonder” is a light-hearted feature that celebrates the Monoids and asks why some monsters only appear once in the programme. “Riverside Story” is partially a reminisce about how television drama was made at the BBC’s Riverside studios and also a look at the making of “The Ark”. All three of these features are ably presented by cultural historian Matthew Sweet. In addition there are the essential photo gallery, info text and Radio Times PDF files.

I did enjoy this story but as a fan who loves the series including its foibles. A more casual viewer might be less forgiving. So this is a DVD for the fans of Sixties Doctor Who.

Gareth Preston

Photo copyright Radio Times

TARDIS

Doctor Who – The Mutants

By the ninth season, the Doctor Who production team of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were finding their reliable Earth based formula for adventures beginning to constrain them. Happily they had cleverly written themselves an escape clause. The Doctor’s exile could be temporarily relieved by the Time Lords who had imposed it, when they wanted to hypocritically send him on a mission to interfere with other civilisations, the very crime they were punishing him for. The Mutants is one of those mid-table stories, decently made but perhaps lacking anything to really push it into the more memorable classics, but its excellently presented on this DVD.

The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) are sent by the Time Lords to Solos to deliver a mysterious box to an unknown recipient. Solos is a misty planet colonised by Earth where the native, seemingly medieval Solonians are treated as second class citizens and are not surprisingly bitter about their lives. They are also being terrorised by a spate of horrific mutations, as men and women turn into insect-like creatures nicknamed Mutts. When an ambassador from Earth informs the odious Marshall that their faltering empire is pulling out of Solos and giving it independence, the tyrant cannot bear the thought of losing his power. He arranges for the ambassador to be assassinated. The Doctor and Jo soon find themselves on the run and battling tribal warriors, mutants and Earth troops. Only by solving the mystery of the mutations and exposing the corrupt Marshall can they hope to survive.

It surprising that some fans have recently been complaining about Doctor Who being “preachy” when in Jon Pertwee’s time the programme was often telling allegorical SF tales. Racism had been tackled previously by Letts and Dicks in The Silurians and The Curse of Peladon but this is the most explicitly political take on the subject, a direct comment on South Africa’s apathied regime and the colonial attitudes behind it. There is also an ecological thread about future Earth becoming a barren concrete jungle and thus having to export its pollution to other planets. Mixed in with this is the SF body horror trope of humans gradually changing into something strange and inhuman. John Friedlander’s design of the mutant creatures is splendid and when they are scuttling enmasse through the caves they are pretty scary. On a trivia note, the Mutt made a cameo appearance in Frontier in Space and later was reused as another alien race in The Brain of Morbius.

Paul Whitsun-Jones had a long track record of playing flamboyant, menacing villains on TV and as The Marshall he goes into full Brian Blessed mode, shouting his way through the part in a way that may not be subtle  but is certainly entertaining. Pertwee’s Doctor is at his grumpiest in this story, acting as humanity’s conscience and horrified by the treatment of the Solonians and their world.  Special mention ought to go to Christopher Coll as cockney trooper Stubbs, making a lot out of a fairly generic guard character, even with the handicap that his best friend Cotton is played by Rick James, one of the worst actors ever in the series.

They’ve fitted a surprising amount of extras on this disc considering it is a six-part story. “Mutt Mad” is an in-depth if straightforward making-of doc, heavy on talking heads and BBC paperwork. More interesting is “Race Against Time”, a look at the show’s attitude towards casting ethnic actors. While admitting the show could have done more to promote more black faces in prominent roles, generally the show is given a clean bill of health. Oscar winning costume designer James Acheson gives a fascinating interview about his time on the programme in “Dressing Doctor Who”. He was responsible in part for the look of the Sontarans and the Fourth Doctor’s famous scarf. Then there’s a slightly random clip from Blue Peter in which Peter Purves talks about Doctor Who monster costumes, including a Mutt.  The six episodes enjoy an excellent commentary featuring a rotating cast of contributors led by Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Garrick Hagon (Ky), Christopher Barry (director), Terrance Dicks (script editor), Bob Baker (co-writer), Brian Hodgson (special sounds supervisor) and Jeremy Bear (designer). This good value disc is rounded out by the traditional photo gallery, info subtitles and Radio Times listing in PDF format.

Watching “The Mutants” again on DVD I’ve enjoyed it a lot more this time. I used to think it was too long and slow but in fact there is a lot to stir the mind and enjoy.  Pertwee is in great form, the Mutant transformations are quite creepy and I’ll even forgive the dodgy science about what happens when you get a hole in the side of a space station. (clue you don’t stand by chatting next to it just because the air pressure has ‘equalised’).

Gareth Preston

Photo by Chris Sampson, Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.

Autism Awareness Week: Day 3 – Newt Scamander amongst others

The third report from my sister about her experiences as an autistic person, in aid of #AutismAwarenessWeek 2020.

Disclaimer

Views expressed by this autistic may or may not reflect the views of other autistics. Every autistic is unique. I do not seek to dictate to anyone how they should think. That is not the autistic way. We do tend to be in favour of free expression and free will, providing nobody is being hurt. There is no intention of offending or distressing you. “I did not get where I am today by” wanting to be the same as everybody else. Yes, I realised I was different, but that did not result in me wanting to mimic as some autistics do. My family accepted me as I was and did not put pressure on me to change. The way to earn the respect, trust and loyalty of an autistic is to let them be what they are. Some do want to fit in; others do not. I have never had the mindset of King Louie. I might not be a good fit for this world or society, but I enjoy being completely my own person. If you watch a film where the outcast becomes super popular at the end, that is not my ambition in life. I would much rather follow the lead of Newt Scamander from “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, who is basically the Chris Packham of the wizarding world. I don’t know if he is intended to be autistic, but he is one of the best adult representations I have seen. Yes, he does find a friend and a girlfriend because that is usually how the formula goes, but he remains true to himself. He has discovered what he wants to do with his life and is happy to remain unpopular. He does not change to fit in. He is my kind of hero and I try to follow his example.
Rowena

“Do you know why I admire you, Newt? … You do not seek power or popularity. You simply ask is the thing right in itself?”
Dumbledore

Newt cares about creatures and protecting them is his life’s goal. However, he also cares about humans, although they often rub him the wrong way. It is fair to say that he isn’t well-versed in polite conversation, but he is loyal to those who look past that.

“We’re going to recapture my creatures before they get hurt. They are currently in alien terrain, surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet. Humans.”
Newt

I like to pretend to be Newt’s apprentice if I need to overcome my reluctance to do something annoying, but necessary. (Like making a phone call to a certain place that shall remain nameless.) I have a pen that looks like Newt’s wand and a couple of Nifflers, plus Pickett. I also wore my “evil” T-shirt with Jason and Freddy on. I like watching horror because I can empathise with either the victim or the monster, depending on my mood. Some monsters are just misunderstood. If you deliberately go to Camp Blood and provoke Jason who just wants a quiet life, then frankly, I have no pity for you. Jason was disabled and he was bullied. He drowned while nobody was watching. He was resurrected by the Spirit of the Lake and lived in the woods as an outcast, only to see his mother killed. I can’t really blame him if he has a grudge against the whole of humanity. (Maybe – I used my imagination.) You don’t have to stop using your imagination just because you are an adult. I do not care what society thinks about it. Society has always been a pain in the bum for those who dare to be different either through choice or because they were born disabled in some way. I have little patience for the “hidden social rules” that constantly trip autistics up. There are “mimics/maskers” who blend in; but that is their choice and they are motivated to do so. Other autistics are keener on being true to themselves and are less motivated. I am one of those, although I do try to be polite. Usually, this means I don’t say very much though. I am a writer; not a talker.

Is It Okay?”

I do not personally approve of April Fools’ Day because I do not often find pranks, teasing or banter to be very funny, especially if directed at a vulnerable person. I do not easily distinguish between friendly banter and bullying, unless it is on a comedy show such as “The Last Leg” or if I know you well. (Bear in mind, even if I know you well, this is not a guarantee that I will recognise it as friendly, especially if I am tired or not in the right frame of mind to appreciate the difference.) You can not know how much stress we might already have experienced. If we explode in your face, that usually just means that YOU were the final straw. Autistics often repress their anger in order to be more pleasing to you. It is perhaps unfortunate that banter is considered to be part of “normal” conversation. If you attempt it and get silence, it could be because we have no idea how to respond; it could be that we are biting our tongue; it could be that we are processing and trying to think of a comeback that won’t be interpreted as “rude” or “defensive” or one of the multitude of ways non-autistics choose to wrongly interpret us. Just try to remember that we might not be communicating at the same level. Just remember that.

Assume makes an ass of you and me.”

I chuckled in response to this, when told it at the Bolton ASC after-diagnosis course, proving that I do have a sense of humour. I just laugh when I find something genuinely amusing. Social laughter for the sake of socialness is not something I do. It just distracts from the conversation. We are all human. We do not need to prove that. Some autistics prefer companionable silence to shallow conversation. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I was never willingly social as a child, never willingly social as a teenager and I am not willingly social as an adult. Conversation is only satisfying if everyone is speaking the same language at the same level. Autistics seem to have their own hidden rules of communication and manners. For despite the myths, autistics care about manners. I have the manners that I was taught as a child. Once we have successfully been taught a rule, we don’t tend to break it, at least not on purpose. Why is modern society so rude? (I blame the internet.)

Goodbye and please try to be kind and polite. If in doubt, ask; NEVER ASSUME!

Autism awareness logo

Autism Awareness Week: Day Two – Such Fun!

Disclaimer

Views expressed by this autistic may or may not reflect the views of other autistics. They are based on my personal experiences which may or may not reflect the experiences of other autistics. Views are not intended to distress or offend. Please be respectful of each other at this vulnerable time. Please practice patience and understanding. Everybody is unique and everybody deserves to be heard and valued. Everybody is doing what they can. Let all past grievances be put aside. This might not be the crisis that we were expecting to be dealing with in the UK, but I do believe that this might be the one to remind us that we are all human and that love is always stronger than intolerance. If we work together, we can get through this. Keep hope alive for a better future.
Rowena
(Autism advocate)

Autistics can be creative in many ways. Some of us write poetry. Here is one of mine.

If You Can…

If you can hold your tongue while all about you are waggling theirs;
If you can lose yourself within the magic pages of a book you hold dear;
If you can hug a well-worn bear in the sanctuary of your room day or night;
If you can find yourself within a cartoon beast of moral character;
If you can show compassion for those who are like you and those who are not;
If you can weep alone for the world that is dying and yet while there is life, there is hope;
If you can make a stand for what is right and not be swayed;
If you can choose the path of thorns;
If you can spread your tattered wings;
If you can be yourself, no matter what;
Then you’ll be the brave autistic soul that you are.

(With thanks to Rudyard Kipling for his poem, “If.”)

“Would You Like to See?”

One of my favourite autistic Youtubers has also composed a poem.

This is so beautiful and heart-felt. Not all autistics would feel comfortable talking to a camera or sharing their vulnerability, but professional Youtubers have learned the skills to do so. They are a vital source of encouragement and education.

Here is a video that a group of autistic Youtubers have put together on behalf of “The National Autistic Society” for spreading awareness to the public.

Goodbye and keep being kind.

Autism awareness logo

Autism Awareness Week: Day 1 – Fee Fie Foe Fun!

My sister Rowena does not have a blog of her own and has no desire to run one. Nevertheless she is an excellent writer and for #AutismAwarenessWeek she is writing a series of pieces about being autistic and has invited me to share them with people who might be interested.
Gareth

Disclaimer

Views expressed by this autistic may or may not reflect the views of other autistics. This is my personal perspective from my personal experience. I do not have the experience of being a parent and I have never formed friendships or been in a relationship. Do not feel pity for me. I genuinely prefer my own company, even though there are people who I like to spend time with. This year is being unusually brutal, but it is not the isolation that is giving me trouble. Introverts, autistic or not, are likely to have built up better coping skills and I am hoping to share some of those with you. I cannot guarantee that my idea of fun will be your idea of fun, but you never know. I think it is important for anyone, introverted or extroverted, child or adult, male or female “etc. etc. and so forth” to be able to entertain themselves, by themselves. It is vital for everybody’s mental health, especially at a time of crisis. There is no wrong or right way of coping. I will be giving honest perspectives that are not intended to offend or distress you. Since this is Autism Awareness Week, there may be an educational segment. We shall see. Thank you for reading this and please feel free to share with your friends, if you think they might be entertained or interested.
Rowena (Autistic Advocate & “Mute”)

Fee Fie Foe Fun!

Here are some ideas for having fun on your own.

  • Read or listen to a book. (I prefer a “proper” book with pages!)
  • Watch something. (What you want to watch via DVD or other means.)
  • I visit a site where I can play trivia games. (I’m a mine of information.)
  • Make a list of whatever you fancy making a list of. (All my books!)
  • Play a board game with yourself. (For prizes!)
  • Puzzle Books (Dot 2 Dot is my favourite.)
  • Computer Games (Hidden Object quests & Matching relax my brain.)
  • Drawing (I hand-make cards for my family.)
  • Create interesting meals. (Mix cereals together at breakfast time.)

“Would You Like to See?”

The best cartoon aimed at autistics and their families is currently “Pablo” which is about the imagination of an autistic boy who is sensitive and rarely speaks. He has support from his Mum, his Grandmother and other relatives, but he likes to solve problems for himself with the aid of the Book Animals. Pablo has a room full of cuddly animals, just like mine. When he is anxious, he draws pictures and interacts with them. This is when the program turns into a cartoon. The beginning and end are live-action. Noa is a nervous dinosaur, Draff the giraffe is obsessed with facts, Mouse does not like loud noises, Wren sings and flaps, Tang the orangutan is always active and Llama repeats phrases. Each one symbolises an autistic trait. Problems that autistics face in daily lives are addressed in a sensitive manner. The messages are always positive and there are autistic actors involved. I am glad that our voices are starting to be heard.

Here is a link to the title sequence for Season 1.

I hope that this show can help reduce the stigma attached to autism. There have also been positive representations in “Sesame Street” and “Arthur,” so I am pleased that today’s autistic children, who grow to be autistic adults, will have something to relate to. I am from a less enlightened time, but I still managed to find avatars for myself. I did not know that I was autistic, but I definitely did know that I was different. I was not diagnosed until my 40’s. I am positive about autism and believe that a diagnosis does help some autistics to understand and accept themselves. It all depends on the individual. It is definitely not all doom and gloom and the best people to teach you about autism are autistics themselves.

Goodbye and take care of each other and most importantly, Be Kind.

Coming soon – Red Rising: Wrath, Talking Pictures TV and more

Hello again. How are you? It’s round-up time again and whilst I’ve been recording some more reviews for the Talking Pictures TV podcast, some good friends have been much more productive.

The latest edition of the Talking Pictures TV Podcast is out now. Now being overseen by Mel Byron, Daniel Reifferscheid and Scott Phipps, it’s in a slightly shorter but hopefully more regular format. And they’ve kindly included my cheerful appreciation of Hammer Film’s loony fantasy adventure The Lost Continent, which will be appearing on the UK channel on 4th March at 12.10am. You can download the podcast from your favourite player or the home page.

Rik Hoskin has let me know that his second graphic novel set in the world of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising books is about to be unleashed on the 19th March. Set in an empire that spans the solar system, where people are born into strict castes and most are forced to live as slaves for a ruling elite called the Golds. Red Rising – Sons of Ares: Wrath continues the story of how disgraced Gold Fitchner became the leader of a ruthless resistance movement known as the Sons of Ares. I loved the first volume and I can wholeheartedly recommend this SF epic. You can get a taste of it from the trailer below:

Finally I’ve been continuing my work at Bolton Little Theatre, producing soundscapes for Things I Know to be True and Brighton Beach Memoirs. I’m grateful for the help of two fresh volunteers Steven and Sam who come on to the sound side lately. Here’s two promos I’ve put together for the productions too.

A short monologue from this acclaimed production.
On stage 30th March – 4th April 2020

Peckinpah for Christmas -Official Talking Pictures TV Podcast

Who says Christmas must be a time for traditions? The latest episode of The Official Talking Pictures TV Podcast is out now in time for Christmas and once again I’m pleased to say I have been included, despite submitting two decidedly unseasonable movie reviews. Creator and outgoing producer Adam Roche has selected my thoughts on Straw Dogs, the infamous 1971 thriller starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.

Looking at the list of upcoming films and television on Talking Pictures last month, I was aware that this was likely to be a Christmassy edition, but when it came to titles I could talk about knowledgeably, it was generally the darker hued ones. Although I did consider the Alistair Sim Scrooge but I had a feeling it has already been covered, or at least would likely to be a popular choice by my fellow #podcastpals.

It’s another excellent show, with lovely reviews from the regulars, most of which have a holiday feel. It also marks a changing of the guard, as Adam is moving on to new opportunities, although he’ll still be contributing the occasional review in his inimitable style. In 2020 I’m excited to hear that the podcast will steered by three superb podcasters and regular voices Mel Byron, Scott Phipps and Daniel Reifferscheid.

This is probably my last post of 2019, so I wish you a Happy Christmas and a marvellous New Year.