Very British Futures – Max Headroom 20 Minutes Into the Future

Max Headroom

Somewhere in the world between the USA and Europe is a city ruled by television, where gangs roam the dirty streets, the rich live in skyscraper fortresses, life is cheap and technology is a retrofitted mix of hi-tech computer networks and 20th century junk. It’s world in need of a hero, but what its going to get is a video celebrity who’s not even real – or is he? 20 Minutes Into the Future has no right to be as great as it is. Designed to launch a new pop video show on Channel 4, it’s a pop rock video delight that captures the flavour of cyberpunk better than most Hollywood attempts.

It was definitely one of the shows I had in mind when I first thought about making a SF podcast. Joining me for the ride are Amy Elizabeth, who you might remember as Bianca Ruocco in Agents of Psyence and Steve Noble, top reviewer for the Talking Pictures TV podcast and one time comic strip writer. We had a very chatty and enjoyable discussion about Max Headroom, with as you’ll hear a lot laughs along the way. Although the pilot movie is the focus, we can’t help but talk about the whole Max Headroom phenomena, that burned brightly but briefly in 1985.

Blank Reg
Reg

The UK pilot led into an excellent but short lived US TV series which was beyond the podcast’s brief but personally I am very fond of too. Even though it softened some of the pilot’s cynicism and made Max himself a little more obviously a good guy. One fact I didn’t manage to fit in is that US broadcast of this film featured extra Max Headroom, with clips from the Channel 4 pop show added to increase his presence in last act.

Edison Carter and Theora Jones

Important Max Facts for you:
Edison Carter / Max Headroom – Matt Frewer
Theora Jones – Amanda Pays
Grossman – Nikolas Grace
Bryce – Paul Spurrier
Blank Reg – W Morgan Shepherd
Dominique – Hilary Tindall
Breugal – Hilton McRea
Mahler – George Rossi

Written by Steven Roberts
Based on an idea by Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton and George Stone
Produced by Peter Wagg
Directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton

You listen to this episode at Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and most major platforms. Or listen and download it from here!

Next time – Threads

Doctor Who Most Wanted Episode One

Television and logo

Shortly before I started out making my own podcast series, I took part in Nigel J Anderson’s own video podcast Doctor Who Most Wanted, alongside Brian M Clarke. The same line-up would meet again online a couple of weeks later to record the first episode of Very British Futures.

Brian, Nigel & Gareth on Skype
, Nigel

Now that podcast is available on Youtube and I urge you to watch, especially if you have been enjoying Very British Futures. The focus of this episode is on reconstructions of missing episodes, both official and fan-made. I knew Nigel had ambitious ideas but I’ve been taken aback with how polished and visually entertaining the episode has turned out, thanks to the many hours he has put into it, to turn a Skype chat into a proper half hour episode.

Where possible the Skype footage is enlivened with CGI illustrations, alongside an animated clip of the unmade William Hartnell story Masters of Luxor, a clip from Nigel’s live action recreation of the opening chapters of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, plus other animations.

We cover quite a range of topics in course of the episode, including a look back at The Stranger series starring Colin Baker, the recent animated Troughton stories, and what stories we would especially like to be returned to the BBC archive.

Visit Youtube to watch the episode.

In other news, there is still a little time to take part in Rik Hoskin’s Terror Trumps Kickstarter campaign and get a copy of his marvelous 70’s retro horror card game. If you want to learn more, take a look at their Kickstarter page http://kck.st/3bLx6zm

Very British Futures – The Uninvited

Man in front of a crashed car

The Nineties were a busy time for SF television, just not for British voices. Whilst the success in syndication of Star Trek: The Next Generation ushered in a purple patch for US television – The X-Files, Deep Space Nine, Stargate SG1 and countless short-lived shows with a range of quality, it seemed to me that the UK lost confidence in the genre once Doctor Who was cancelled (bar the one-off 1996 TV Movie). It’s noticeable that a lot of what was produced by TV companies in this decade for peaktime audiences put the emphasis on their ‘realism’ or carried assurances that they were not ‘science fiction’ but drama. Star Cops, Bugs, Space Island One. ITV’s The Uninvited is an interesting example of that. It’s an alien invasion story dressed up as A Ruth Rendell Mystery.

Visit the podcast’s home page at Anchor.fm

I enjoyed rewatching The Uninvited recently and I equally enjoyed talking with my friends John Isles and Nicky Smalley about it a few weeks ago for the next edition of Very British Futures. Turns out like me, John kept it on VHS tape for a long time, simply because it was British SF TV at a time of relative scarcity. I don’t think I quite managed to fit in my appreciation of Leslie Grantham as one of the chief alien bad guys, all intense stares and cool demeanor. This episode might feel a little different to the preceeding ones because I was testing the water by having a more wide-ranging conversation about the Nineties and novelisations too. Here’s some more details about the show for the record.

Principle Cast
Douglas Hodge – Steve Blake
Leslie Grantham – Chief Supt. Philip Gates
Lia Williams – Melissa Gates
Sylvestra Le Touzel – Joanna Ball
David Allister – James Wilson
Caroline Lee-Johnson – Sarah Armstrong

Writer – Peter Broker
Music – Martin Kizsko, Toby Gilks
Cinematography – Doug Hallows
Editor – Colin Goudie
Producers – Ruth Boswell, Leslie Grantham, Laura Julian, Archie Tait
Director – Norman Stone

I’ve been adding the RSS feed for the podcast to more online directories. You can find it at:
Anchor, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Breaker, Pocket Casts, Spreaker, Blubrry, and Digital Podcasts.

However you can still listen or download the show from the link below too.

Very British Futures Episode 5- The Uninvited

Thanks for reading.

Son of Terror

Spread of horror trump cards

Grisly, lurid artwork. An array of horror fiends, both classic and original. Yes it is the return of Rik Hoskin, Tim Brown and Chatri Ahpornsiri’s labour of love Terror Trumps a card game which is also a homage to the classic Seventies Top Trumps Horror packs. I wrote about this project a few months ago. Now I’m the proud possessor (ho ho) of the enhanced version 2.0. Not only do many of the cards feature fresh characters and new art, but each carries a witty description by Rik too. Plus they’ve introduced more power-up cards too.

If you would learn more, take a look at their Kickstarter page http://kck.st/3bLx6zm

I really hope this imaginative project gets the support it deserves.

Very British Futures – Star Maidens

Star Maidens is exactly the kind of show I originally set this podcast up for. Not quite a lost show, but certainly an obscure one, at a time when there was not that much SF on mainstream television that was not Doctor Who or from the Gerry Anderson stable. A British-German co-production, it’s certainly got a lot of problems in both concept and execution, but there’s some interesting ideas in there and for a relatively low-budget production, the world of Medusa is quite impressive thanks to Keith Wilson’s production design skills. (see one of his design drawings above for the Medusian city). Wilson also was the lead designer on Space 1999 and the two shows share a certain look. Although the more location bound episodes set on Earth do look cheap and ugly in that special Seventies way.

Two women at a futuristic console
Liz is interrogated by Octavia

It’s also intriguing to think that this show was shown a year before Star Wars was released and rewrote the SF landscape for ever. Nevertheless the disco futurism look of SF, typified by Star Maidens would persist for a while yet. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century would be a key example. Despite the opportunities for kinky dominatrix and lesbian subtexts, and the fact that it has a plethora of beautiful women in its cast, it does not feel like a particularly sexy show, or at least no more than Space 1999 or UFO did.

We got so busy talking about the gender politics and the characters with my guests Dr Rebecca Wray and Kevin Hiley that we left out some basic details about the show. So here are the essentials you might like to have whilst listening.

Cast

  • Lisa Harrow – Liz
  • Christian Quadflieg – Rudi
  • Christiane Krüger – Octavia
  • Judy Geeson – Fulvia
  • Gareth Thomas – Shem
  • Pierre Brice – Adam
  • Derek Farr – Dr Evans
  • Dawn Addams – President Clara

Directors

Freddie Francis, Wolfgang Storch, James Gatward, Hans Heinrich

Writers

Eric Paice, Ian Stuart Black, John Lucarotti, Otto Strang

Producer

James Gatward

Very British Futures episode 4 – Star Maidens is available on all the major podcast platforms, or you can listen and download an MP3 copy below.

Very British Futures – Star Maidens

In the end, I’m glad I’ve finally got around to seeing this show, which for years I only remembered for the sticker colouring book which my grandparents bought for me back in 1976. Thanks for your continued listening and support.

Very British Futures – The Tripods

One of the benefits of inviting different combinations of guests on to each episode is that you get a variety of tones. It keeps it fresh and surprising. This episode, covering the BBC Eighties series The Tripods, for example welcomes Andrew Roe-Crines to the guest sofa, along with regular contributor Kevin Hiley. Andrew is a senior university academic and he brings a certain thoughtfulness and rigor to his answers. Combined with Kevin’s great enthusiasm for this programme, it results in our deepest and most analytical hour so far, and one that has made me look at this drama series with fresh eyes. I hope it does for you too.

The Tripods was an unusual commission for the BBC, who have tended to regard Doctor Who as fulfilling their annual family science fiction needs. There hadn’t been an example of two major SF series on BBC1 since Blake’s 7 had appeared 1978 on mid-week evenings during the Star Wars boom. Based on the popular children’s novels by John Christopher, it followed the adventures of teenagers Will, Henry and Jean-Paul (nicknamed Beanpole) as they go on the run across Europe and eventually join the human resistance against the Tripods, gigantic machines which rule the human race through “capping”, a metal circuit fused to the skull. The cap makes the wearer an obedient drone. Ultimately the resistance discover that the Tripods are in fact vehicles for an amphibious alien race known only as the Masters.

Co-funded by the Australian channel WGB, this was an epic production, with lots of location filming and impressive effects. Unfortunately that epicness also led to a leisurely pace, especially in the first season. Viewers were frustrated by the lack of Tripods in many episodes, often only appearing for a moment, striding by. But when the action came it was excellent and the second season was much livelier than the first. But it was too late and the audience never returned in large enough numbers. Unlike the current BBC/HBO adaptation of His Dark Materials, which publicly committed itself to making the whole trilogy from the start, the BBC were making decisions on a season by season basis and fresh productions from new producers were lobbying for its budget. So The Tripods became a trilogy of only two parts.

In the subsequent years there have been rumours of a Hollywood movie but nothing has come of that. Personally I think the series, with a bit rewriting, especially to boost the female participation, would be a great fit for a streaming service. You can learn more about the series by listening to the podcast, which is available on Anchor and Spotify amongst other platforms. You can also listen or download a copy below.

Very British Futures – The Tripods

Future programmes coming up on Very British Futures podcast include: Star Maidens, The Uninvited, Max Headroom, Out of the Unknown, Star Cops and The Nightmare Man. If there are any British SF shows you would cover in the future, why not drop me a line or leave a comment? All the best.

Monsters’ Inn

I was checking the stats for this website yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see that the short vampire story When the Bells Ring Out I uploaded before Christmas has been downloaded 49 times, which by the standards of this blog makes it practically a runaway bestseller. So it’s encouraged me to dust off another from the Monsters talking book CD release.

Monsters’ Inn is a shorter, much more lighthearted piece than When the Bells Ring Out. Written by Mark Simpson, read by Mark Kalita and produced by myself, it originally appeared on the old Phantom Frame website.

“Anyone will tell you that Hollywood is mean place to earn a living. But for artistes belonging to a very singular community, at least there’s one place where everybody knows your name.”

You can listen or download the audio talking book below:

Monsters’ Inn by Mark Simpson

Thanks for looking in. Hope you enjoy the story.

Very British Futures – Knights of God

Response to the first episode of Very British Futures was very warm, and now I am keen to push on and get several more recorded between now and September, when my workload will increase. Next out of the gate is Knights of God, the ITV 1987 family adventure series set in the then future year of 2020. Now 2020 was not a bundle of fun for most of us, but at least the country had not collapsed into ruins and being ruled by a jackbooted religious order. It’s an impressively mounted television series that recalls ITV’s ambitious children’s series from the Seventies such as Sky and Children of the Stones in its scope and grittiness.

I was glad to be joined over Skype by my old Westlake Films muckers Kevin Hiley and Dr Rebecca Wray to remember the show and discuss its themes. They were worried they wouldn’t have enough to say but as you’ll hear we filled an hour nicely.

You can listen to the podcast at Anchor or on one of these platforms: Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, RadioPublic, Acast or PocketCasts. Whilst I’d encourage you to use one of those, to build up my figures, if you need a copy for your MP3 player, you can download it below.

Very British Futures – Knights of God

Thanks for your support and join me next time, as we continue the theme of life under occupation and young resistance fighters with The Tripods.

Very British Futures – My Podcast Adventure

For the last few months I have had a project secretly coming together, something to look forward to as I laboured on the third year of my degree apprenticeship. I have enjoyed being a guest on other people’s podcasts but it has left me with a desire to do more. So it was only natural to start thinking about my own podcast series. Now episode one has been released on the Anchor platform and Spotify, and hopefully will gradually be made available on other sources too soon.

Very British Futures is a celebration of lesser known science fiction television series which Britain has produced over the years. I felt that there already enough excellent series and websites covering Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Red Dwarf, The Prisoner, Quatermass and Supermarionation but there was a niche for talking about some of the less well-remembered productions. So each episode, some special guests and myself will be looking back at a different show, critiquing it and putting it into context of the history of SF. There’ll certainly be humour but the emphasis will be on appreciation rather than mockery.

1961’s Pathfinders in Space trilogy seemed a great place to start. It’s not the first British SF series by any means but it feels like the beginning of a new era of modern television. Its place as the precursor of Doctor Who means it is influential but at the same time it is not nearly as well known as it should be. Plus I knew from conversation that Nigel Anderson and Brian Clarke would be happy to talk about it and both were at ease in front of a microphone. We had already recorded several podcasts about missing Doctor Who episodes, for Nigel, and I also appeared in a video discussing the Daleks which Nigel had produced. Whilst being together in a room to record would have been pleasant, Skype’s audio quality was acceptable for a simple conversation.

It’s been good to go back to a little light audio production. Making a podcast is a lot simpler than an audio drama. Most of the work is editing the original Skype recording, applying some noise reduction, getting rid of mistakes or sections where the conversation went too far off-topic, then bookending it with music. My biggest problem has been learning to use a headset properly, being more use to a microphone on a stand or a dictaphone. I turned to my friend Chatri Ahpornsiri, who I’ve worked with on previous audio dramas, to provide the theme music and he generously provided four versions to choose from. You can hear more of his marvellous work at chatriart.bandcamp.com. There are several free to use platforms for hosting podcasts. I felt Anchor was the easiest to use and I was attracted by the way it automated posting my series on most of the major podcast outlets.

You can listen to the series at https://anchor.fm/gareth-preston but unfortunately you cannot download the episode easily from there. Whilst I’d prefer it if people streamed it from here or one of the other platforms for the sake of the show’s stats, I appreciate that some people would like the option to download the MP3 file for portable listening. So you can find episode one below:

Very British Futures – Pathfinders in Space

At the moment I am editing the second episode, in which Rebecca Wray, Kevin Hiley and myself talk about Knights of God. After that there are plans to make episodes about: The Tripods, Star Maidens, The Uninvited and after that I have a long list of possible candidates, and plenty of guests I am hoping to record with. Would love you to have a listen and hear back from you, what you think and what shows you would like to be covered.

Artwork by Nigel J Anderson

TV21 Daleks – The Emissaries of Jevo

It’s time to take care of a little unfinished business. Back in 2020 I was kindly invited by Dylan Rees onto the podcast Doctor Who – Too Hot for TV to discuss the legendary TV21 Dalek comic strip. I was in the process of moving house at the time so my own copy of the strips and other related books were locked away in storage, so I had to rely on my memories and the internet for details. It all worked out in the end I think Dylan and I created a fun episode. However there was one story which neither of us could remember a single detail about. It has variously been listed by fan sites as The Emissaries of Jevo or The Seeds of Arides (the comic strip had no individual chapter titles) and ran between issues 90 and 95.

As the supposed guest expert on the show, this has irked me since and Panini’s recent restored release of the TV21 comic series in a glorious new edition last November 2020 has given me a chance to upgrade my collection and refresh my memory.

This is certainly the definitive reprint of the British classic comic strip. Thanks to Gerry Anderson’s own archive and contributions from collectors, many of the original artboards have been digitally scanned, supplemented by scans from the best surviving issues of TV21. Digital technology and printing is now at a stage where these 104 pages not only look as good as they did coming off the printing press in 1965, but it in fact often better. Bight colours zing, and the skilled draughtsmanship of Richard Jennings, Eric Eden and Ron Turner looks sharp and detailed. Well presented in bookazine format on quality paper and supported by some excellent archive articles, this is for my money the best Doctor Who publication of 2020.

The Emissaries of Jevo was wholly illustrated by Ron Turner and written David Whitaker, Doctor Who’s script editor who wrote the large majority of the strip, with supplemented help from Angus Allen. The spacecraft “Guardian” and its crew from the planet Jevo is despatched on a secret mission to Arides to destroy a mutated species of plants. The flowers, infamous for their pollen which destroys all rival organic life, have mutated to gigantic size and now threaten to poison the galaxy. Unfortunately the ship is captured by the Daleks, who are quite happy for these flowers to unleash galactic genocide. Through a ruse, Captain Kerid persuades the Dalek Emperor that Daleks are vulnerable to the seeds too and his ship is released. When the Daleks discover the trick, they pursue the Jevonians, who heroically choose to complete their mission, even though it means certain extermination.

Despite its silly premise about mutant space pollen, this is a typically good example of the strip. Whittaker had developed a general rule that when the Daleks faced human looking opponents they would always lose, but in this story that guideline is cleverly bent. Although the Daleks destroy the Jevonians, it is an empty victory since the the flowers are destroyed and even the Emperor has a moment of doubt about whether they can ever truly conquer the human spirit. Curiously the crew of the good ship “Guardian” are described throughout as androids, yet this has no bearing on the story at all. We do not learn if all Jevonians are androids or just their astronauts, we never see them use any robot abilities and the crew certainly seem to have a full range of emotions. Kirid and his second in command even have a violent argument that ends with Kirid punching his subordinate in the face.

In good piece of continuity, the Daleks used a magnetrap to capture the spacecraft, just as they had used on Robot 2K a few weeks earlier. As was discussed on the podcast, magnetism is something of go-to for Whittaker whenever it comes to Dalek science, possibly because it was a bit of science that most schoolchildren would have learnt about. The Emperor voices a chilling piece of Dalek philosophy too. When Kirid tells him the apocalyptic threat posed by the seeds, the Emperor replies “Daleks are not android, human or animal. Why should we prevent these plants achieving what we are dedicated to achieve…?”

Ron Turner’s artwork is as splendid as ever. “Guardian” is quintessential Turner design. Loosely based on the Bluebird jet plane, its a riot of fins, flanges and intakes. The Daleks meanwhile are piloting claw-like space fighters that look impressive in action. Explosions are another Turner speciality and this story has some particularly good examples, my favourite being a Dalek scientist being ripped apart by an exploding gun.

In his introduction, editor Marcus Hearn describes the comic strip as the most enduring artefact of Sixties Dalekmania and I would agree. Their influence on the programme goes right up to the present day with the recent Dalek YouTube series and the visuals of Dalek saucers and armies in the 21st century series, clearly show the echo the comic. Even the fabulous look of the modern bronze Daleks has something of a Ron Turner feel to it. All the strips are exciting and accessible, but the best of them have depth too, as expanding that Dalek empire we heard about but the series could never afford to show us.

The Daleks is available to order from panini.co.uk, priced £9.99.