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TV DVDs

The latest titles from TV series and TV specials range to hit the shelves and online stores

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Tuesday, 08 March 2011

Yorkshire Television decided to take a bite into the genre of horror anthology with this series from 1995. Not being one of the ‘big hitting’ networks, its negotiating powers on scheduling for what was a new series were not exactly overbearing. You can see from our episode guide below that its meagre five episodes took eight weeks to be transmitted.  After getting its first two episodes screened over consecutive weeks, the last three were shown every other week.  You can imagine the parlour game of the time: “Guess when Chiller is on”.

The era it came from was that of the dawn of The X Files. You can only be stumped by the schedulers not seeing the potential for audience cross-over – albeit anthologies have the disadvantage of no regular characters for a dedicated audience to become fanatical about. That said, for a series that is a set of self-contained 50 minutes stories, its characterisations and performances are some of its best assets.

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Sunday, 27 February 2011

To get to a ninth series and still be able to make your episodes feel fresh is a grand old trick if you can pull it off.  So was the case with the latest adventures for Spooks, the Kudos TV production which has done more for MI5 recruitment drives in recent times than anything else. The high turnover in characters continues, and this run of episodes saw the introduction of Sophia Myles (the live action Lady Penelope in the Thunderbirds movie) as Beth Bailey, who fits in like she’s always been part of the team.

Also signing up for duty is Max Brown (previous Sam Grey in Mistresses, and Edward Seymour in The Tudors) as new spook Dimitri Levendis. We get to follow the team on a an excellent roster of stories, which include tracking Somalian terrorists, preventing assassination attempts, avoiding bombing efforts and vicious snipers, and through it all facing the personal consequences of working for the secret services.

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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Psych is one of those shows that falls into that category “Great to watch, easy to miss”.  I viewed it avidly for the first couple of seasons, then just seemed to lose track of it.  It was therefore very easy for me to accept the offer of reviewing the third season, which has just been released on DVD.

With half of his colleagues convinced he is a psychic, James Roday plays Shawn Spencer, who is following in his father’s footsteps with a career in law enforcement, although not as ‘route one’. Through what can only be described as ‘heightened observational skills’, he pulls off the trick of being able to be considered a psychic. Unfortunately, many of those around him are far more sceptical of his ‘spiritual’ skills, and he does have a penchant for rubbing people up the wrong way!

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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Materialising in what appears to be a jungle on Earth, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo soon realise that things are not what they seem. The sky is made of steel, and the jungle merely a colossal life chamber in a craft that has embarked on the most important expedition in the history of mankind. Needless to say, this is “The Ark” of this story’s title, and here we have an example of Doctor Who exploring more serious elements of Science Fiction.

It is ten million years in the future, and the Earth is soon to be engulfed by the Sun in a catastrophic explosion. The gigantic space ark has been launched to take the last humans to a new life on the distant planet of Refusis. Serving the Guardians of Earth are the Monoids, mute reptilian aliens, who are about to reveal their true colours.

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Friday, 25 February 2011

Long before he became the presenter of game shows, I’m of the generation who grew up knowing Jasper Carrott as being something of an underground anti-establishment comedy hero. I remember the sixth formers at Highfields School in Wolverhampton all huddling round a record player, in-between after-school drama sessions, playing the 12” slabs of vinyl from Mr Carrott. It was wild, risqué, the sort of humour you wouldn’t then see of the telly.

Having made several appearances on regional television during the mid-1970s, Jasper was launched to a wider audience with his first TV series in 1978. An Audience with Jasper Carrott was a storming success, earning him a Pye Award as ‘Outstanding New Personality’ and turning him into a household name. Now you can see the evolution of one of our greatest living comedians - and bemoan the fact that he's not doing standup anymore but instead doing game shows.

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Friday, 18 February 2011

There are some series that were very popular of their time, but have almost completely been erased from collective memory and the history books.  One such is Shadow Squad. Its longevity and popularity provided a training ground for key television writers of the 1960s and 1970s, including BAFTA-nominated Julian Bond and Coronation Street creator Tony Warren. 179 episodes were transmitted between June 1957 and June 1959, but only four now remain in the archive. The show was a series of two-part stories, showing episodes less than a week apart.

The theme makes you expect Quatermass, all doomladen and full of menace – not quite matching what was to come. And in terms of setting precedents, it is well worth noting that this show was one of the first to lead to a ‘spin-off’ - in this case the airport-bound Skyport, which carried over the popular Cockney wide-boy character of Ginger Smart as an airport security guard. And in this new Network DVD release, you get to savour the ONLY surviving episode of Ginger’s 52 further adventures.

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Wednesday, 09 February 2011

It’s potty in itself to think that it’s over seven years since the first series of Michael Bentine’s Potty Time was issued by Network onto DVD.  So, for those of us who haven’t had a new injection of manic history told in the most totally unique of ways since 2004, the arrival of season two is long overdue (to say the least)! But upon watching these new discs, everything is soon forgiven, and we are reunited with a set of long-lost friends.

So here we are, with the pages of the great Potty Encyclopaedia opened once more. We have 13 more classic episodes of this madcap puppet series – with the benefit of each one being a “two for one” compared to the first season, so they weigh in at half hour episodes.  Yes, we get two tales to each of the segments. Created, written and presented by the multi-talented Michael Bentine (an early member of “The Goons”), Potty Time ran between 1973 and 1980.

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Wednesday, 09 February 2011

In November 1922, Howard Carter (Robin Ellis) thanks to his backer, Lord George Carnarvon (Harry Andrews), makes an extraordinary discovery in the Valley of the Kings ...  the sacred burial ground of the pharaohs, near Luxor. It is the tomb of the frail young king, Tutankhamen (Tut-Ench-Amun). But the rumour of an ancient curse, of impending grief and disaster, threatens to mar their triumph...

An extraordinary acting line-up, including Tom Baker, Eva Marie Saint, Wendy Hiller, Angharad Rees, Patricia Routledge, and the truly scene-stealing Raymond Burr, feature in this lavish 1980 HTV telefilm drama, lensed on location in Egypt. It was adapted by Herb Meadow (creator and writer of Have Gun - Will Travel), some of his last credited writing work, from Barry Wynne’s bestselling “Behind the Mask of Tutankhamen”.

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Sunday, 06 February 2011

There is something deeply fascinating about the Edwardian era and the grand old country houses, the lives of the people who lived in them and who worked in them. The idea of the very rich having a vast staff of people who took care of their every whim and fancy and did it all with a bow or a curtsey and were happy and proud to do it may seem like an alien concept to us now but it was an accepted way of life at the turn of the last century.

Downton Abbey is one of these houses, a huge rambling stately pile set in acres of immaculately manicured grounds with a seemingly never ending array of maids and footmen in starched uniforms, valets, grooms, butlers and cooks who bustle about the place and cater for the needs of the Crawley family who employ them. It’s a romantic vision, and with the series out now on Blu-ray and DVD, one that is perfect as a Valentine’s Day gift. Set in the years leading up to the First World War – the first episode opens in 1912 with the Crawley family and their staff waking up to learn of the sinking of the Titanic.

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Sunday, 06 February 2011

The Time Lords send the Doctor and Jo on a mission to deliver a sealed message pod to an unknown party aboard a Skybase orbiting the planet Solos in the 30th century. Solos is due to gain independence from Earth's empire, but its Marshal is determined to prevent this. He arranges the murder of the Earth Administrator and, with his chief scientist Jaeger, plans to transform Solo's atmosphere into one more suited to humans.

In the latest Doctor Who DVD release from 2Entertain, Ky, a young Solonian leader, is falsely accused of the murder and flees to the planet, taking Jo with him. The Doctor follows and joins them in an old thaesium mine. Ky turns out to be the intended recipient of the message pod, which opens automatically for him. Inside are stone tablets carved with ancient inscriptions. 

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Monday, 31 January 2011

Here’s something of an unusual offering, and you have to wonder if it set out to me a pilot movie for a series that never got picked up. Leonard Rossiter, he of Rising Damp and Reggie Perrin fame, stars as Cyril Dugdale, a Bristol-based “machinegunner”, which is West Country slang for a debt collector. He’s also turned amateur detective, and finds himself enmeshed in a dangerous web of corruption in this dark yet humorous HTV thriller.

Lured by the promise of easy money, Dugdale takes compromising photographs of Jack Bone (Colin Welland), a property dealer involved in an adulterous affair, for the mysterious Felicity Mae Ingram (Nina Baden-Semper, once of Love Thy Neighbour, with this movie having been shot as that show came to the end of its run). Felicity’s attractiveness also has more than a little to do with Dugdale’s eager co-operation, but he has little understanding of what he is getting involved in. When Bone’s hired thugs are dispatched to retrieve the negatives, and then Bone himself is found dead in woodland, Dugdale realises he been drawn into a conspiracy involving a widespread extortion racket.

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Monday, 31 January 2011

K9 from Doctor Who had a pilot made for his own TV series way back in 1981. K9 and Company was not well-received, but you can’t keep a good idea down.  With the BBC already having their own child-friendly spin-off from the Who franchise in the Sarah Jane Adventures, for the cool robotic dog to now get his own series meant having to ‘up sticks’ and head to Australia. Without the BBC’s involvement or blessing, it meant that the owners of K9’s rights had to set it in another time and place.

So, we find ourselves in a future Britain, where the current push to totalitarianism has reached its logical conclusion.  A Cybernetic Police Force keeps a bunch of spin doctors in power, who even manufacture their own small-scale ‘False Flag’ events to keep the public in check.  A heavy background for a series that is obviously aimed at children, but then it harks back to such classics from the past as Knights of God and Tripods. It’s at this stage you’re probably wondering why you’ve not heard of this new show.  After all, it’s already started broadcast in the UK!

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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Running for nine series from 1969 to 1974, Jokers Wild was a lively, panel game in which two trios of comedians competed for laughs from the studio audience. While team members delved into their repertoires for winning jokes based on topics drawn randomly from an oversized pack of cards, bonus points could be scored by opposing team members if they interrupted mid-gag to complete a punchline.

Hosted by comedy legend Barry Cryer, the show’s line-up often read like a ‘Who’s Who?’ of British comedy talent – later series would see the likes of John Cleese, Bob Monkhouse, Arthur Askey, Diana Dors, Eric Sykes and Sid James taking part. This first series, featuring Les Dawson, Ted Ray, Charlie Chester, Jimmy Edwards, Alfred Marks and Roy Hudd, shows the development of the format.

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Sunday, 30 January 2011

It’s the deepest part of winter, just past the midpoint that is the Winter Solstice... we find ourselves at a distant Christmas Eve. Amy and Rory are trapped on a stricken space liner, spicing up their honeymoon with some role-playing. Their vessel has a major problem, though - it’s plummeting through banks of thick icy fog to the surface of the planet below them.

Only one man has the power to save them; only one man is in possession of a machine that can clear the fog and let them land safely. That man is Kazran Sardick, a rich but lonely old miser who rules Sardicktown with a sky-mast of iron. The Doctor’s only chance of rescuing the ship’s four thousand passengers is to save Kazran’s soul and show him that life is worth living.

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Thursday, 13 January 2011

Doctor Who has a very critical audience.  They know what they like, and what they don’t, and “Meglos” has become one of those stories that suffers from setting teeth on edge from just reading its logline: Tom Baker’s Time Lord gains a doppelganger when a walking man-size cactus takes on his features.  See what I mean?  It’s always going to be an uphill struggle from that point on.

Emerging as the second story from Season 18, Tom’s swansong run, it’s something of a throwback to previous Baker seasons, with K-9 actually having some sort of function in the plot, and Romana getting a few good set-pieces into the bargain (although fighting off planet-bound beasties ain’t exactly a pièce de résistance!).  When all else fails, you can definitely say there’s a lot of fun in this story.

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Thursday, 13 January 2011

Family Guy has completed its homage (or demolition, depending on your viewpoint) to the original “Star Wars” trilogy with the release, in widescreen Blu-ray and DVD, of “It’s A Trap”, their retelling of “Return of the Jedi”.  Right from the scrolling opening text monologue, the team are keen to beg fans to reduce their expectations, even suggesting they’d effectively had a gun put to their heads to do this third instalment.

Indeed, the cast welcome into their brethren assorted characters from the ‘sister’ show, American Dad, something commented on by Stewie as showing they haven’t got enough of their own number to call upon to fill in the various roles. In the crew commentary, there’s note made that Lucasfilm was very forgiving of the more cruel aspects of this episode, and there’s an admission that if they do the next “Wars” trilogy, they’ll probably leave that to The Cleveland Show!

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Monday, 03 January 2011

Caprica is a prequel spin-off from the recent remake of Battlestar Galactica. This box set contains the opening nine episodes of the first (and sadly only) season and the original straight-to-DVD pilot, along with a host of special features. The story is set 58 years before BSG and the holocaust that forced the ragged remnants of mankind to flee the merciless, cybernetic Cylon fleet.

The series concerns the birth of the Cylon race and the tragic, overlapping paths of two powerful families on Caprica, the Graystones and the Adamas. Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz – “Memphis Belle”, “The Fly II”) is the Bill Gates-esque CEO of Graystone Industries. Joseph Adama (Esai Morales – Jericho, “Freejack”) is a shady lawyer with links to the Tauron mob, whose wife and daughter die in a shocking suicide bombing.

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Monday, 03 January 2011

David Tennant followed up his lengthy TV stint on Doctor Who with this emotional family drama. Coming down to Earth with a distinct thump, Tennant is Dave, a photographer in a long term relationship with Rita (Laura Fraser – Casanova, Neverwhere). Between them they have five offspring; one each in prior marriages and three together. Everything changes when Rita is killed in a road traffic accident.

Dave’s parenting skills are put to the ultimate test as he struggles to keep it together in the face of disabling grief, despair and anger. He turns to friends and family for support, not least Sarah (Suranne Jones – Five Days, The Sarah Jane Adventures) who was Rita’s best friend. Finding himself inexorably attracted to her, Dave must decide where his priorities lie if he is to keep his life and family together.

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Wednesday, 01 December 2010

I was trying to think of another series which, like this show, was a spin-off of a spin-off. There can’t be many.  In the beginning there was Please Sir!, which begot The Fenn Street Gang, and from that format came Bowler.  And to add another twist to its pedigree, Bowler was in fact a prequel spin-off – with the adventures of Stanley Bowler coming before his time chronicled on Fenn Street.

In its parent show, Bowler was young Craven’s shady boss, and very much a precursor to Del Boy who would follow on from him. The iconic George Baker (probably best known now from The Ruth Rendell Mysteries) stars as the East End villain with social aspirations, while the series was once again penned by veteran sitcom writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey.

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Wednesday, 01 December 2010

A series of six individual plays, each linked by the scorpion-like twist in its conclusion, Scorpion Tales features some of Britain’s most talented and renowned actors – including Trevor Howard, Geoffrey Palmer, Jack Shepherd, Don Henderson and Tony Britton. This was ATV’s attempt to muscle in on Tales of the Unexpected territory, with fairly studio-bound stories filmed at their Elstree facilities.

A free hand was given to a team of distinguished writers that include Ian Kennedy-Martin (The Sweeney), Jeremy Burnham (The Avengers), and Bob Baker and Dave Martin (Doctor Who). The screenplays range from an engagingly devious account of a man’s attempt to outwit a computer, to a tough drama about a jaded policeman who becomes the object of a homosexual vendetta.

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Monday, 22 November 2010

The concept of football guru Terry Venables co-creating a Private Eye character may raise the off eyebrow.  However this is what we have in Hazell. Nicholas Ball stars as the streetwise, charismatic detective for hire in this release of the second season of the Thames series. Aired in 1979, it followed the success of the show’s first outing the previous year.

Co-created by journalist and novelist Gordon Williams, the format was in homage of classic film noir while boasting rounded characterisations, witty Cockney dialogue and tough credible action scenes. It was set primarily in London, although we do get a trip to the seaside this season.  Also noticeable is there are a few more topless scenes this time around, and you sense a lot more location filming than in the more studio-bound first series. All of this is to the benefit of the show!

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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Brand new and never seen on TV, “Top Gear Apocalypse” features the usual vehicular mayhem and hilariously irresponsible antics you would expect from the Top Gear team, minus Jeremy Clarkson and The Stig (presumably cowering somewhere with his tail between his legs!). Richard Hammond and James May take us into the world of motoring after a nuclear war, where petrol is sparse and sensible behaviour non-existent.

Breaking this feature-length episode into half a dozen chunks, Hammond and May take us through topics such as how to commute to work in zero-visibility conditions, MOT tests for the apocalyptic age and which cars they would drive if they had the last barrel of petrol... in the world. Our intrepid duo presents the DVD in traditional dead-pan style from the safety of a nuclear bunker, sporting comedy smutty faces and dishevelled hair.

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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Rawhide is a television legend, even though some may feel they know little about it. As a starting point, here’s a brief quiz round for you: (1) Name any regular character on Rawhide, except Rowdy Yates. (2) Name any actor who appeared in the series, other than Clint Eastwood. (3) Sing the theme tune. Hopefully many of you will already be off to a flying start!

If you're unfamiliar with Rawhide you could be forgiven for thinking it was merely a star vehicle for Clint Eastwood, where he honed his talents to later portray the Man with No Name (interestingly, research indicates the part was originally offered to Eric Fleming).  The series was, in truth, very much an ensemble piece, with Eastwood's youthful and inexperienced ramrod Rowdy Yates a sidekick to trail boss Gil Favor, played by the aforementioned Eric Fleming.

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Sunday, 14 November 2010

It seems incredible that Robin of Sherwood is now over 25 years old. It certainly has not aged at all, and it’s clear to see why it was regarded as a benchmark of quality television drama in the 1980s. It is arguably the definitive interpretation of the Robin Hood legend. And it’s only right and proper that this BAFTA-winning series now gets a release in High Definition via Blu-ray technology.

Michael Praed stars as Robin of Loxley in Richard Carpenter's influential and highly acclaimed re-working of the classic myth. What I always loved about this series, putting the attractions of Mr Praed on one side, was that Mr Carpenter managed to successfully weave the legend that we all know with a nice bit of magic and mysticism which was perfectly believable. The idea that Robin was the ‘son’ of Herne the Hunter and, armed with Albion, one of the Seven Swords of Wayland - “charged with the powers of light and darkness” - led his not-so-merry band to fight their Norman oppressors was an attractive one.

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Monday, 08 November 2010

There has been nothing quite like The Goodies.  Unfortunately, due to an ages-old bust-up with the BBC, their adventures are falling into the memory hole, with very few of their potential next generation of fans ever having heard of them.  To their credit, Auntie Beeb did mention the intrepid trio’s 40th anniversary on their flagship The One Show, featuring a host of the clips and our heroes in-studio, thankfully being given the chance to promote Network’s DVD celebration of the series.

You can trace back the animosity to a time before they were poached by ITV. Michael Grade became aware of the dissatisfaction in the camp, in the way the nation’s public broadcaster was treating a series that had been on-air and doing great ratings over a decade, since 1970. A Christmas special for 1980 was cancelled, and the gang and their trandem three-seater cycled over to the commercial LWT. However, the new boss was the same as the old boss – they simply didn’t know where to schedule the show.

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