Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Hewligan's Haircut (2000AD #700-708)

"You don't just think the world's playing hard to get?" - Hewligan

The late 1980's and early 1990's.  For UK comics it was the best of times and the worst of times.  The best because there was a large number of UK comics in print, such as CRISIS, Revolver, The Judge Dredd Megazine and blazing a trail before all of these was Deadline,  which blended youth culture commentary with comic strips such as proto-Riot Grrl Tank Girl by Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett.  It was also the worst of times as the US comic industry was hoovering up artistic and writerly talent as quickly as UK comics could bring people to their attention.  By around 1991-2 the best of the best was gone from the UK industry and we were left with the likes of the appalling Toxic comic which pretty much summed up the state of the industry at the time, and soon only 2000AD and the relaunched Megazine were still going (and are with us to this day).  But before that happened 2000AD, in the spirit of the times, was more willing to take risks on oddball concepts and art and so in 1990 we got Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett's Hewligan's Haircut.  A fantastical mish-mash of cubism, pop art and collage alongside Hewlett's very recognisable art style, which tells the tale of a young man's reality warping haircut and his quest to restore sanity to the world...

We start with Hewligan "languishing in the Five Seasons Mental Hospital".  Nurse Hatter gives him some plastic scissors so he can trim his nails and look smart for his meeting with "Doctor Proctor" who is going to assess him for possible release.  The comic at this point is in black and white.

Nurse Hatter: "Remember, it doesn't matter if you're sane or insane.  The important thing is to act sane. To pretend you're sane".

After she has gone, Hewligan says to himself that he doesn't pretend hard enough, he bets other people keep quiet about the "big ugly faces" they see.
Hewligan sans Haircut.
Nurse Hatter scolds him for talking to himself, then tells him to do something about his mop of long hair.  He snips it with the plastic scissors and ends up with a giant pompadour with a hole in it that looks exactly the same from whichever angle you view it from.  Deciding it's not the sanest of hairstyles he slicks it down saying it should "tranquilise the maniac" and goes to meet Doctor Proctor.

He shakes Doctor Proctor's hand and his hairdo springs back up, he thinks to himself "pretend your hair doesn't exist Hewligan.  Pretend you're sane."  Doctor Proctor confirms that Hewligan hears voices and sees big stony faces, all the while his ears are wandering across his face.  Hewligan desperately pretends their is nothing wrong and when asked if he still hears voices and sees the faces he lies and says "no, I don't".
Hewligan steps out into a mad world
"Then I've cured you!" says Doctor Proctor and pronounces Hewligan free to leave the hospital.  Nurse Hatter is sad to see him go.  Hewligan hopes once he's amongst normal people all the weirdness he feels will go away.  But as he opens the door to freedom he is met by a full colour scene of madness:

Hewligan: "Oh dear, I thought.  Perhaps I wasn't pretending to be sane hard enough.  Or maybe the world of normal people had changed a little since I had been inside the mental hospital."

He wanders through the surreal landscape thinking that this was the most confusing day of his life but "how could I pass judgement on the world when my own hair seemed to defy gravity?"  He approachs a policeman, who produces a rabbit from his helmet and asks Hewligan to pick a card.

He walks off and thinks that he's never been mad like this before, just the voice and stone heads, "quite ordinary madness".  He sees a chicken crossing the road and follows it, as the road tells him to watch where he is stepping.
The world is out to get him.
He dines at an Indian restaurant where the food literally disagrees with him, then goes to the Underground where things seem perfectly normal, but for some reason it's raining just on Hewligan.  Shop doors move when he tries to open them and the Born Again Christian tells him to "drop dead."

Later he chances upon a bank robbery, "my day was nothing if not eventful".   The robber runs past him and drops the gun by Hewligan who picks it up. Everyone starts accusing him of being the thief.  He drops it and runs, being chased by twelce policemen on one bicycle.  He runs into a blind alley and the wall speaks to him saying "psst.. in here.. quick!"

He walks through the wall and is confronted by a blonde woman riding a rocking horse who tells him to climb aboard.  The horse is called Dada and isn't much use for evading the singing policemen chasing Hewligan so they pick it up and flee.  After baffling another wall with an ontological paradox they slip through and into the woman's hideaway.

She says you need hideaways when you're a lawbreaker.  Hewligan asks what laws she breaks and she responds, "why the laws of nature of course!  They're the best laws of all to break!"  She floats and when she holds things she never quite touches them as the is slightly out of sync with the world.  Like Hewligan "I'm just plain out of tune".
Scarlet O'Gasmeter.
She introduces herself as Scarlet, Hewligan says it's a "heavenly nameWhat an island of radiant bliss in this ugly sea of madness."  He asks for her full name and she says "it's Scarlet O'Gasmeter".  She then tells him about the world and how some people aren't tuned into the right frequency for it.

Things can go out of tune as well, like socks.  Always disappearing into other dimensions. Same as umbrellas and doorkeys. 

Scarlet: "UFOs are really alien footwear that've have slipped out of tune with their world and tuned into ours. At this very moment an alien astronomer is getting all excited at a Woolworth's cotton sock oscillating above his planet."

Hewligan then sleeps for a while and when he wakes up Scarlet says his pursuers seem to want him.  And there are masses of soldiers after him, he doesn't understand why, he's a "nobody!".  He says it's mad, she says of course it's mad, the whole world is mad, where's he been?  He says in a madhouse, she responds "figures."

Hewligan: "It was a mad mad mad mad world.  And getting madder. Don't just take my word for it, ask anyone. Ask that giant polka-dot hamster that keeps following you around.  He'll tell you."

He and Scarlet escape on a flying pig who used to be a cricketter called Mike Gatting.  Not to be confused by the other cricketter called Mike Gatting.   It was a karma exchange, cricketter Mike used to be a pig in a previous life.
The world steps up its assault on Hewligan.
They float down to earth and Scarlet says she know some "imaginary alleyways" they can lose their pursuers in. But there are child soldiers waiting, so the run off to get disguises from a fancy dress shop.  They get the costumes of their "exact doubles" so they end up looking the same.

Then things turn cubist, a wavelength from one of the "art dimensions".  The army are still chasing them because "cubism is an intellectualised and conceptual realism.  Rather than an optical and instinctive realism".  As Hewligan says "I thought as much" it wears off...

...only to change to an attack from the Warhol dimension.   As we get a full page of the same repeated images and a discussion on the power of boredom, it wears off "probably looking for some suckers who take it seriously".  They are left in a white space, so Scarlet draws a door and they go through and Scarlet asks if he has ever had a girlfriend as they make it back to the mad world, "not unless I had one without knowing" says Hewligan.
A tedious dimension invades.
They arrive of the stage of a smash hit musical about a sex gladiator called Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Hewligan asks just how more untuned the world can get and a rocket comes up through the stage.   This literally brings down the house and as Hewligan and Scarlet escape she says he has to face facts that the world hates him for some reason.

But she likes him and they share a kiss. Then they go back on the run as the world starts picking up broadcasts from enigmatic sixties TV shows.  In this case "The Prisoner".  They try to escape, but a huge beach ball chases them down the beach, they leap on it and get sucked inside.
Time stops for a kiss.
As they bounce around inside, Hewligan confesses he is still bothered by the Big Faces that appeared to him in his dreams in the mental hospital. Scarlet says she's met a few untuned people who have dreamt of "big and stony faces with large foreheads". He says those were exactly what he dreams of and voices too.  Scarlet says becuase he is untuned he picks up wavelengths from other frequences.  "You're not a madperson Haircut" she tells him.

They get out of the balloon and find themselves in Stevenage.  The airforce is still chasing them. Scarlet says if they find what's making the world out of tune they can find out why it hates Hewligan.  They walks into a travel agent and Hewligan sees a advert on the wall, it shows a huge stone head.  It's for Easter Island.  "There they are!" he says excitedly.
Hewligan spots the Giant Heads.
"I think I'm having a mystical experience" he goes on to say. "Can't you just be happy instead?" retorts Scarlet.  They book a holiday to go and see the heads. When Hewligan wonders how they'll get there, Scarlet reminds him the world is somewhat messy right now and they hail a bus which is going the whole way.

It travels across the ocean, and Hewligan asks if this is an irrational persecution complex or guilt trip?  "No, I really think it's your fault. Somehow or other your to blame for all this" says Scarlet.   The navy and airforce are catching up and the skeleton driving won't speed up, so Scarlet takes over driving.

The bus ends up getting sunk, so they swim the rest of the way. They reach Easter Island but all the giant heads are fast asleep.  Then it starts raining missiles, but they turn into mushrooms as they hit the ground.  Then one of the stone heads wakes up and tells them to step in its mouth. And then:

Hewligan: "...I saw it. Glowing softly in the centre of his forehead.  Unmistakeable.  Unforgetable.  Born of a pair of plastic N.H.S scissors. My haircut. Hewligan's Haircut!"

Scarlet voices what we're all thinking... how does the shape of the most absurb haircut ever also be a symbol on an Easter Island statue?
The Haircut is the Key.
A strange while hole appears in the air and Scarlet says the world is starting to disappear.  The picture starts to fade so Hewligan drags her into the statue's mouth despite her reluctance and they snog while falling deep inside.

They find themselves in a place solely populated by giant stone heads.  They are between dimensions now  "You are in the blue limbo of the zonal frequency modulations" says the head that brought them there.  Their job is to keep worlds they are assigned to in tune and Hewligan's haircut is to blame for what happened:

Giant Stone Head: "You see your haircut is the shutdown signal to turn off the zonal freqency modulators.   If the shape of that symbol appears in a dimension all frequency modulators in that dimension go to sleep."

All that madness caused by one haircut. Hewligan is to return via the head and undo the damage, but Scarlet won't be coming with him.

She says all her life she has been out of tune, "all my life I've felt I don't belong".  She's going to use the giant heads to travel to different dimensions so one day she'll find a world she'll feel at home in.  Hewligan says he'll come with her, but the stone head says "absolutely not".  He has to come back and undo the damage his haircut did.
The Giant head explains all.
If he doesn't that world will become so undone it'll be little more than a "rumour".  Scarlet says their world doesn't deserve that and hugs a tearful Hewligan.  He cuts his hair and climbs back into the stone heads mouth.  He waves goodbye to Scarlet and thinks "I had no idea where on Earth I was going to arrive.  Right then, I didn't care."

As he falls through the world of colour and tries not to think of Scarlet, he decides to become a monk as he's "had it with women.  I'd had it with life".  He comes out of the head and the world is back to normal and in black and white again.  It's in the middle if Trafalgar Square that they land.  Hewligan tells the stone head he'll stand out there.

Giant Stone Head: "Frequency modulators are never out of place. Reality is always slightly altered to accomodate us.   Ask anyone and they'll tell you there was always a giant head in Trafalgar Square. Now you better go and stop speaking to me.  People will think you're mad."

So Hewligan mooches off, he's hungry, thirsty, wet, miserable and penniless.  Then suddenly he sees a man with "my haircut!  Hewligan's haircut!"  He runs over to tell the man how dangerous it is and gets told to get lost.

So he starts ripping the man's hair out until the police drag him off.  And he ends up in a straitjacket, in a mental hospital in a padded cell.  He tells the doctors the full story of why he ripped the man's hair out expecting to be believed and let go, but he gets booted back into the cell.
Back in the loony bin again.
Angrily he tells himself he shouldn't have come back and starts plotting to grow his hair and create the haircut again, he'll turn the world into a rumour and go looking for Scarlet.  Then suddenly the wall bulges with colour and a giant face appears with Scarlet standing in it.  She decided she wanted a travelling companion and so came back for Hewligan.

Hewligan: "Scarlet, is this really happening? I mean is this just my madness?  Is the world still out of tune?

Scarlet:  Stop worrying Hewligan.  What does it matter?"
But after all Scarlet returns for him.
And it ends with a kiss.  If I could be serious for a moment, despite the humour, this strip gets a lot right about some types of mental illness.  Speaking as someone who has struggled with some quite serious "breaks" in reality in the past (and who is basically a medicated psychotic) that feeling of being "out of tune" with the world is a perfect description of how it feels to wake up one day and find everything feels wrong about the world and only you are unaffected by it.  Perhaps my worst one was believing everyone in the world had been replaced by sentient robots and only I knew what had happened. Fortunately I was able to ride that out and back to sanity again without hurting anyone or myself but it was a terrifying experience which involved amazing amounts of paranoia as if the whole world is really out to get you.  Which is why I relate to this strip quite heavily.  The ending is also interesting, did he really get rescued by Scarlet?  Or did he finally escape into permanent fantasy via his mind like the end of the Terry Gilliam film Brazil?  Even the choice of putting the "sane" parts in black and white are meaningful.  When you are taking various types of meds for mental illness (especially antipsychotics) you can feel like the world is flat and colourless in comparison to the vividness of a hallucination or other altered state of conciousness.  It's all clever stuff, definitely one of the more sympathetic treatments of severe mental illness I have ever seen (and let's face it, the likes of me are usually being roughed up by Batman rather than riding a bus to Easter Island when it comes to comics sadly).  And the story is good fun, and actually holds together well for what initially feels like a set of random circumstances. The art is wonderful, and if you're reading this and thinking the art looks like The Gorillaz, well Jamie Hewlett is the artist behind both.  Hewligan's Haircut is one of those wonderful oddities 2000AD throws up from time to time.  It's also avaliable as a trade paperback so if you're at all interested it's well worth checking out.

35 comments:

  1. I remember this story appearing (although I don't remember the actually story for reasons I'll elaborate). This appeared about the time I was getting bored with 2000AD and Brit comics generally. I thought they'd got a bit self indulgent. It was nice that the creators were getting a bit of recognition and a fare shake of the stick in business terms. But I thought the cult of the artist was leading to a situation where editorial control was taking a back seat. Sometimes you just needed someone who was willing to say 'no'.

    So when this came out I quite liked the artwork but I thought the story was a bit silly and that they were just letting people indulge their pot fuelled ramblings.

    However your comments have out a whole new slant on this.

    I think it helps that you've set out the who plot in one place. At the time is just didn't have the patience to keep up with it a week at a time. I'd sort of scan though, but then the week after I couldn't really remember (or untruth, be bothered) as to what happened the week before. It wasn't like the old days of stories like 'Freaks' where the plot was so driven you just couldn't wait to see what happened next.

    But now I can sort of appreciate it a bit more. It is very in the vibe of the time though. Reminds me of stuff like Will Self's North London boy of the dead or the Robert Rankin novels. That sort of fantasy (the surreal kind, not the dragons stuff)in an urban setting.

    I like your perspective about the mental illness aspects and the skewed perception. Perhaps the story was deeper than I intially thought. I hadn't considered the b&w bits as representing sanity. I had it more of a wizard of oz movie thing. The shift to colour representing a 'dream or reality?' viewpoint.

    In story terms its interesting that this is perhaps a retro appearance of the manic pixie girl thing with all that implies.

    I do love the way she's drawn though. The almost simple line aspects when she's grabbing him by the hand and stepping out. The almost stiff gait. It's very dynamic and really works for the character.

    I am wondering though, did she come before or after Fenchurch in Hitch-Hikers. I'll have to check, but she shares a lot of common traits, even down to the feet literally not touching the ground.

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  2. I was getting bored with 2000AD roundabout the same time, but I do remember liking this a lot at the time pretty much because of the art, Jamie Hewlett was another artist I blantantly copied for a while settling into my own style. That said it does benefit from being read all in one go, the story holds together remarkably well. I can only compare it to "Time Flies" the Garth Ennis strip running around the same time which had similar awesome art but the story is just shit, randomness for the sake of it and I am glad Ennis never tried that again.

    That said, the whole mental health aspect of the story passed me by at the time, but having gone through what I have gone through and learned to identify my "triggers" and deal with altered states of conciousness and having been on some ferocious zombifying meds I was surprised how much it spoke to me on that level. Maybe it is all coincidence and it was more about dreams vs. reality, but when you're a person like me who experiences lucid dreams and has held whole conversations with people while fast asleep, you realise the line between dreams and certain types of mental health situations are pretty much fully blurred.

    Wikipedia tells me Fenchurch came quite a while before Scarlet O'Gasmeter, they are both definitely prototype Manic Pixie Dreamgirls though.

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  3. I actually had a real MPDG in my life once. It was fun. It was almost like a rom com plot. We had exactly one year to be together (she'd been due to spend a year in Nigeria on a commonwealth scholarship, then Nigeria got suspended from the commonwealth so she was stuck in London for the year). She's the girl I mentioned before I think that when I bumped into her years later she was very visibly pregnant and when I asked "So what have you been up to?" She just pointed to her bump and said "Have a guess"

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  4. Heh, sounds cool. Of course I tend to find the concept of the MPDG quite funny ever since that episode of Black Books where Bernard decides some poor woman is going to be his "summer girlfriend" and lists off all the MPDG type stuff they'll do and she's horrified by his intentions.

    Man, now I want to rewatch Black Books (gets up, yanks it from a teetering pile and slides season one in).

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  5. She really did fit a lot of the traits, but in an 'accidental' sort of way. By which I mean it wasn't an affectation, she genuinely was like that. She put it down to being the neglected middle child. We did have lots of adventures and though I say it myself we were a cute couple. Me being all chalk stripe suits and she looking like she lived at the bottom of Alan Bennett's garden.

    Never seen black books. It's one of those programmes like spaced or game of thrones that I'd probably really enjoy, but just never got round to.

    Oh and I see you got Dredd (I posted something but it must have got eaten). Be interested when you've seen that as to what you have to say.

    And secondary oh, did that picture find its way to you?

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  6. I did get the picture, it's awesome! You don't have to apologise for GCHQ to me, I've always had a fairly pragmatic view about the need for institutions like that.

    Oh you must watch Black Books, it's just the best. Bernard Black is my hero, I can be a bit like him only without all the boozing. It also has a great woman as part of the trio, I always judge a comedy by whether or not the woman/women are allowed to be as utterly ghastly as the men in it (I hate it when women are the unfunny "heart" of a comedy show). Fran passes with flying colours.

    I shall watch Dredd and either post or email you about it, I tend to watch films before I go to bed if I am in a going to bed mood. I've popped it on top of my "to be watched" pile at any rate, looks interesting.

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  7. Yeah, some of my friends (whose tastes I share) rave about it. I'll blag the disks off them in the new year and have a binge. I'm intrigued to see what Bernard is like now then if you're similar.

    You got me thinking about ghastly women. I know what you mean. It's so boring when they're the goody two shoes stable centre of things (There's a Cracked After Hours video about that where they speculate the trend for 80s sitcoms to have missing mums was to avoid that)

    Jen in the IT Crowd sort of qualifies I think. She's actually more 'evil' than the guys. They're just idiots. On a related note, you ever see Garth Marenghi's Darkplace? Great deconstruction of the woman as living prop in that. Loved that show.

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  8. Oh wow, a fellow fan of Garth Merenghi's Darkplace! Yeah, loved it when it was first on, picked up the dvd and it has the utter treat of an in-character commentary track by the three men (as sadly Madeline Wool has disappeared presumed dead according to Dean Learner) that is just as funny as the episodes themselves. Shameful confession, I read ALOT of terrible horror books in the mid-to-late 80's, especially stuff by Shaun Hutson who Garth Merenghi is blatantly based on (I swear by The Nine I actually saw Hutson refer to himself as a "dreamweaver" in an interview once), so I find it amusing on a slightly "OMG how did I not realise how crap these books were level" too.

    Interestingly two of the ground breaking US sitcoms of the late 80's featured ghastly women, "Roseanne" and "Seinfeld". Elaine from "Seinfeld" is pretty much my metric for how amusingly ghastly a woman character can be without being offputting.

    Now I have only seen the first series of the IT Crowd, but if you're going to watch Black Books, 'tis only fair I cadge the complete IT Crowd boxset off my sister and watch the rest of it.

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  9. "Knock it off you two, this is s hospital"

    *Blam*

    Yeah Garth is like 'meta' cubed. Don't worry, I'm a secret shame terrible horror fan too. I always thought Garth had a touch of the James Herbert about him, but all those churn a book out once a month writers are pretty much in the same vein. (I like Garth's boast that he's written more books than he's read)

    It's funny, I never realised the Seinfeld characters were meant to be horrible until years later. That probably says something worrying about me. George was my favourite. "Is anyone here a marine biologist?"

    Roesanne shares the thing with Seinfeld that it doesn't seem quite so good looking back, but that's because you forget how groundbreaking they were and how they shifted the paradigm. Modern stuff is standing on the shoulders of giants as they say.

    The IT Crowd just got better every season, especially when matt berry came along. He's just so loveably appalling. There's an interesting take on trans issues. With anyone else it could be dreadful, but he really makes it work.

    "Oh darling, it's so silly that you thought I wouldn't accept you, just because you were born in Iran"

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  10. Early Roseanne holds up pretty well, got the first three seasons on dvd. Got ALL of Seinfeld on dvd and the whole family are huge fans so we can drop references to specific episodes and know everyone gets the context. I stil think Seinfeld is a masterpiece of Fawlty Towers-style farcical comedy in which everyone is Basil Fawlty and only really the odd topical reference has dated about it. And any show with the motto "no hugs and no learning" is just the thing to warm it to a cynical Brit. Elaine is my fave, but George is a close second. One of my sisters, her boyfriend thinks George is a hero. She's always scolding him for thinking that :D I was lucky enough to catch Seinfeld on its first showing in the UK when it was on midweek post Newsnight in a batch with Grace Under Fire and The Larry Sanders Show. Which also need to be out on dvd, like NOW.

    I love Matt Berry, is he doing his Dixon Bainbridge voice? He made season one of "The Mighty Boosh" great.

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  11. George *is* a hero. Who can't identity with striving to the (pretty inadequate) best of our ability and almost but not quite getting there? And so well acted. There's a line about why they cast Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring "He suffers so beautifully" and I think that applies very much here. You seen the Seinfeld documentary? Very interesting. Goes into how/why they cast Elaine as they did.

    Grace under fire. I'd forgotten about that. I do remember the funny but poignant line when she was so proud of her (second hand) wedding dress: "You can't even see the bullet holes"

    Oh matt berry, his voice is even better in ITC. still does the Bainbridge at times. There's a wonderful bit at a funeral "Faaaaatherrrr", "Where is your God now priest?" But he's got a much wider range in this. He also does the funniest delivery of "electric sex pants" ever. There's even an episode about feminism after he's called out for

    "...your company's inherent culture of sexism"

    "Now hold on a minute sugar tits"

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  12. The guy who plays George is such a different person in real life. He's mainly a theatre actor who is quiet, thoughtful and really sweet. Having watched a lot of the extras and listened to the commentaries it's fascinating how he approached the role. He started out thinking the things that happened to George were unbelievable until Larry David said it was all stuff that had happened to him, so Jason Alexander switched from the Woody Allen impersonation he had been doing to being more like Larry David and the George we all know and love was born!

    Grace Under Fire was a very underrated sitcom, it suffered in it's last couple of season from Brett Butler's substance abuse problems and acting out on set but the first couple of seasons are a bit like early Roseanne, strong working class woman holding a family together under sometimes intolerable pressure.

    Damn, I am lookng forward to watching more IT Crowd now, good to have something to look forward to in the new year :)

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  13. That was the interview with Jason Alexander that I was thinking of. Funnily enough, the storming out one day and then turning up the next as if nothing had happened was a pretty regular feature at a solicitors firm I used to consult for. You could write a few things about that place! The boss was really proud of the fact he had no friends; that gives you the idea. (His slogan was that the firm was the Millwall of the legal profession "Nobody likes us; we don't care"). It was a fun place though in a scary way. They did a thing once offering free divorces, then tipped off the daily mail so there was a big outrage about it which got them loads of free publicity. They sponored the radio programme I used to do (basically me pontificating as I am want to do, about legal stuff). We got into trouble once when he was a guest on the show because someone asked how to resolve a boundary dispute and he recommended just punching the other guy (in practical terms that's not a bad idea)

    Now I'm going to be heretical here again. I think Grace was a better programme than Roseanne. Roseanne was great but she was your classic 'deadpan snarker'. It was good to see a no nonsense tough woman, but I think Grace had a particular vulnerability (presumably because of Brett's real life experiences) that made it a tragi-comedy. Things are often funnier (if that's the right word, probably not) if there's a real sense of desperation in the characters. The classic 101 for sitcom is to trap people in a situation they want to leave, but can't. That's why Steptoe was so good. It was also the basis for Red Dwarf. Lock people up with the person they can't stand and see what happens. It's all about shattered dreams and hopelessness. Poor Grace was just so desperate for a better life and because the show was much more grounded in reality than Roseanne it just worked on a different level.

    Even a show like Frasier, where on the surface they materially do very well still has Niles in his loveless marriage and the (very Steptoe) Fraiser trapped with his 'uncouth' father. Although the writing and dialogue in that show was superlative.

    (fun fact: appear from Frazier himself just about every male straight character was portrayed by a gay person and vice versa)

    Come to think of it Kelsey Grammar had a lot of addiction problems on set. But everyone commented on how it didn't affect his work. He could be sat in a slump in his dressing gown, come on to set and be amazing, then instantly retire to his dressing room in another depression. Mind you, his life is so tragic it's amazing he could function at all.

    On happier topics I'm now replaying IT Crowd moments in my head. there are some genuine wet yourself funny bits. If we're going to be academic for a moment there's some good gender stuff. I've mentioned Douglas (matt berry) and his run in with the feminists. That's not helped when Jen mistakes them for strippers.

    "They're not strippers Jen, they're feminists"

    "I don't care what you call yourselves nowadays, these puppies ain't for show"

    Jen actually gets on the board at one point thanks to Mos inventing the world's most comfortable bra. Unfortunately it's prone to overheating.

    "I'm so hot! My tits are on fire!"

    Oh and there's one of the most sympathetic treatments of D&D that you'll see in comedy. Starts off with all the geek cliches but then nicely subverts them, and beats the Big Bang Theory's use of a game of D&D as therapy (by acting out a relationship problem in character) by several years.

    Everyone in it is brilliant but matt berry is especially amazing, especially his all girl (apart from him) remake of Star Trek.

    "Dammit Jim, I'm a sexy doctor, not a sexy scientist"

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  14. Epic post!

    Grace Under Fire I really want to see out on dvd because I think it might also be better than Roseanne. However like I said the actress/comedian playing Grace had severe substance abuse problems and unlike Kelsey Grammer was not able to stop bringing them onto the set. There is an infamous CSI episode written by one of the ex-Grace Under Fire writers about an out of control sitcom actress who is murdered by her co-star. Many of the things she did Brett Butler did, including showing her "new boobs" off to the ten year old boy playing her son. And the woman who starred as her best friend simply disappeared from the show in the final season when the actress said "fuck this noise" and walked after one drunken tirade too many aimed at her. Pretty sad really, it was a great show and Brett Butler a gifted stand-up comedian as well.

    I did enjoy Frasier, I have a thing about sitcoms where people are awful but you can see reasons for why they are awful and you sort of half pity them, half admire them for not just ending it all. I really dislike shows like "Friends" who I all thought were appalling people we were supposed to like and emulate. Blech.

    Now with your talk of a D&D episode, I think I might have to grab the IT Crowd boxset from my sister when I go over for tea next week. We're all off for a family outing to see Reeves and Mortimer. If you couldn't already guess from the name of this blog, I'm a huge fan since "The Big Night Out" (possible one of my fave comedy shows of all time) and have been looking forward to this for ages. We were meant to go this time last year but Bob had his heart attack and the dates were cancelled. Still, should be well worth the wait!

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  15. You know, I hadn't even realised the V&B connection until you just said. Maybe that's because I didn't see the series when it came out (no TV) but I picked up the phrase because a friend used it to (very accurately) describe someone. Presumably he got it from the show. It is a great phrase though. I still use it generally. But then I also use cad unironically. I remember someone describing lawrence llewelyn bowen as a regency fop once. It fit so well in the context.

    However like Duran Duran, MDMA and dogging* I was fortunate in that I later got to realise how good V&B were when I got a second chance to enjoy when I was introduced some time after missing out the first time.

    I do like dadaism (pretentious, moi?) so it was right up my street. But the bit that sticks in my mind, not just from the show but as one of the best things I've ever seen is the Masterchef clip. Hypercephalic Lloyd Grossman floating around and the lady who made God in a fried breakfast. Not just surreal but delightfully sinister. That's not a sketch it's a genuine work of art.

    I hope you have a lovely time seeing them live. Do you get to shout stuff out? "What's on the end of the stick Vic?"

    (*one of those is made up)

    Frasier passes my 'you couldn't just explain your way out of it' test. You're very right about the characters. No matter how, temporarily, awful they may have been you still cared about them. You might want to punch anyone else who came out with a line like

    "Enjoy the facilities of our platinum lounge. Have crueller words ever been spoken?"

    But you almost feel for Frasier and Niles.

    The dialogue in that show was amazing. I have stolen the:

    "She's psychic. We've decided to find it charming"

    formula for general use.

    I've only seen one episode of friends. It's the one where (see what I did there!) they let slip that a kid is adopted. I actually found that a bit funny. I know what you mean though. There was no character you felt for. I think also the way the show tried to 'force' you to like it (even down to the 'one with' formula) really grated. It's like when adverts try to create a fake sense of 'community'. Hard to explain what I mean perhaps but it's that awareness that something didn't evolve naturally but was the product of people sat in a meeting saying 'you know what's popular now...' Sure a bright lass like yourself gets my drift.

    But don't get me started on advertising. I turn into Victor Lewis Smith.

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  16. I'll be so pleased if "Grahame Lister" shows up in the V&B show and chastises Vic for being a workshy fop. Apparently it will be a mixture of stuff from Big Night Out and The Smell Of... If we get Novelty Island I shall die from joy. I once had a hamster I called "Hubond The Heretic" after a Novelty Island act.

    And yeah the Masterchef sketch is just amazing. Like Harry Hill's daftness with TV Burp sometimes it was hard to believe this stuff was being shown on TV, yet people loved it. Of course absurdist comedy was fashionable even before Monty Python came along (incidentally that's my fave comedy show of all time, even the unloved John Cleeseless fourth series is great). It was repeated on TV just after we got a VCR so we watched the shows over and over, me and sister no.1 have a lot of fun riffing on Python references with each other. My other sister was a only just born then, so she missed out on all that but for some reason growing up she couldn't get enough of "The Mary Whitehouse Experience" and "The Young Ones". Totally unsuitable, but mum never protested her watching them as long as she didn't swear in front of Granny it was all good.

    Anyway I shall report back on the Vic and Bob show next week. I've seen quite a few good comedians live now. Eddie Izzard four times, Bill Bailey twice, Armstrong and Miller, several Adam Buxton "Bug" shows, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes having a chat with an audience and probably more I can't recall off the top of my head. My major sadness is I'll never get to see Victoria Wood live now. 2016 claimed some big names, but she was the one that really upset me, she really inspired me growing up.

    Ah advertising, I've not had a Tv service since 2006 and it's been a blessed thing not having to put up with adverts anymore. Most stuff I watch is dvd or from the net. I get a bit annoyed when a 15 second youtube clip has a 30 second ad on it, bu otherwise I don't have to experience anything worse than the odd suggestions my google ads sometimes come up with. Victor Lewis Smith, great man, got a homebrew dvd with "TV Offal" on it which I dubbed when I had a weeks access to a VCR/DVD combi set and a box of old taped off the telly videos. Very funny stuff I assume you've seen it?

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  17. Heh, you must be the only person who shares our tastes whose hamster wasn't called 'SPG'.

    MWE were the first people who sort of turned comedians into rock stars I suppose (although I guess we'd had monty python at the Hollywood bowl). But they were great. Maybe it's my love of the macabre and sinister but my favourite character was 'Jarvis' (named after the pulp singer as I'm sure you know). So wonderfully sleazy and perverted.

    "You're getting ahead of me. Many's the young person who's made that mistake. But only once."

    Such a well crafted character though, even down to the old jaguar he was meant to drive. Everything was so spot on. I could even imagine his house (a sort of filthier version of Uncle Monty's)

    But yeah, I love absurdity when done well. Grew up on Python. Have to say though I genuinely believe the Goodies were on a par.

    I thought the young ones was hilarious. Until I left home. Then I realised it was a documentary. I've lived in a few houses like that.

    "It's a toaster"

    When I first moved to London I went to a comedy evening. It was in a school hall. There were like 12 people there. But on the bill were Harry Hill and Bill Bailey. Even then they just stood out as leagues beyond anyone else we saw.

    TV Offal was brilliant. Sort of proto Charlie Brooker, but with an added layer of genuine contempt and hatred for the medium.

    I still conjour up 'Lazy TV Advertising C*nts" every time an advert today rips something off. That's one of my major (and I can say, few) rant triggers. It's as bad as that forced mateiness. The nearest I've ever come to throwing something through the screen was when an advert ripped off OK Go's Here we go treadmill video (I was at a friends' place though and Im a good enough guest not to). But it seems so common. I quite like my poncy art stuff and that gets ripped off a lot too it seems. It's just that talentless hack exploitation without the courtesy of even an acknowledgement aspect that boils my blood. The irony being that there are some genuinely creative people in advertising. Just look at ridley Scott. So there's no excuse.

    But enough rantiness. I'm going to calm down by yelling "White wee wee" and pretending to be a Dalek. :-)

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  18. Ah how could I forget seeing Harry Hill live? I think I laughed so hard during one point of his show I actually nearly broke something.

    I've actually managed to avoid living in shared houses all my life, I went straight from uni into bedsit land. Yeah I still had to share a bathroom but thankfully that was the extent of it.

    I think Orwell had it right when he said advertising was "the ratteling of a stick inside a swill bucket".

    I could never understand how VLS got away with the Gay Daleks. Usually the estate of Terry Nation came down hard on stuff like that but it seemed to fly under its radar for some reason. Twas hilarious though.

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  19. "OOH.GET.HER!"

    Wish I had the proper Dalek font for that.

    Yeah, Terry Nation was a bit proprietary about stuff like that. Maybe he just liked them? Or maybe it was a BBC licensing thing. VLS did use the real Shawcroft Daleks (gawd, how nerdy to recognise that?) and they belonged to the Beeb. Spike Milligan got to use them for instance, and Tony Hart. In fact I seem to recall the copyright in the *shape* of the Daleks doesn't actually belong to TN, just the concept. Hmmm?

    Interesting aside (for a certain value of interesting) the copyright in police boxes now belongs to the BBC. The Met police claimed it but actually lost the court case. (They are allowed to build actual police boxes without paying royalties though)

    Did you know the Daleks were meant to be the baddies in the third series of Blakes 7? But TN abandoned the idea as he was in the process of selling a Dalek series to US television.

    And to tie in the theme of lazy advertising you know whats, Kit Kat used the Daleks unlawfully in an advert, and that was a case where TN estate did make a fuss (presumably they're OK for kit kats now)

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  20. http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKIntelP/2002/o33602.pdf

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  21. Ooh, didn't know Ridley Scott nearly did the Dalek design

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Cusick

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  22. I read DWB in the late 80's-early 90's and they were always running news titbits about the estate of Terry Nation sending cease-and-desist orders to unauthorised Dalek usage.

    Blake 7, yep did know that (and about the Ridley Scott Dalek/Who connections). Blakes 7 is a show I was too young to appreciate at the time but got well into with the VHS releases and now own all the dvds including the season 3 boxset which came with a little model Liberator I still have. Grand space opera on a BBC budget, they were mad, much as I do love it I swear when people used to talk about Doctor Who and its wobbly sets 90% of the time the were thinking of Blake 7. Joss Whedon is a huge fan of the show and it influenced Firefly pretty heavily.

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  23. Should have guessed you'd know. Knowing lots of stuff is kind of your bag. :-)

    I loved Blakes 7. There were some shonky filler episodes, but the overall show could be brilliant. It still really holds up today. I'm not that bothered about the production values. A lot of the time they weren't actually that bad anyway; but the quality of the acting and writing more than made up for it.

    Did you hear BBC Radio's remake? They kept the general storyline and tone (if it ain't broke...) but just added a but of depth and fresh interpretation. One interesting path they took was to make it a lot more ambiguous as to whether Blake was indeed framed (they sort of clear that up for the listener, but the characters are less sure). That adds an extra layer to the moral uncertainty of the original series. They also make the Federation, or at least some of its employees, less pantomime villain. It's a lot more 'grey vs grey'. I still imagine Servalan is ruling the galaxy in a cocktail dress though.

    I had a Liberator too! One of Sci fi's coolest ships. Even though or maybe especially that it was originally intended to face the other way.

    I'd love to see an Orac/K-9 team up. Two of the smuggest characters ever, fighting crime. Orac was so cool, as were Zen and Slave. It's a sign of great writing, and voice work, that such characters can be so empathic.

    And you know my thing about hyper competent strong women, and that was a show that had them by the space-bucketful.

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  24. I sir you flatter me. *wafts self with fan* ;)

    I haven't heard any of the audio Blakes 7. Might have to rememdy that. Servalan could of been a horrible character but she turned out brilliantly. I often say Robert Holmes's best writing wasn't on Who it was on Blakes 7 with that episode ("Gambit") where Vila and Avon rip off a space casino while Servalan camps it up more than usual with the pair of space dandies is his best ever. Huh, when I am off the anime kick I am currently on, I will make Blake 7 my next "thing to marathon while I play LEGO games on the main TV".

    Orac and K9 teaming up would be heavenly. Now they managed to get Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Next Generation to crossover in comics, surely somehow a Who/B7 crossover can happen too. Orac's fate at the end of the series is a real "What Happened To The Mouse?" situation to quote TVtropes. I like to think he'd somehow engineer himself an escape from whereever he'd ended up.

    Dayna was my favourite character, it's a shame Josette Simon has not ever had anything more to do with the show since she left because I thought she was quite a ground breaking character and hearing her thoughts would be fascinating.

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  25. Is it Robert Holmes who's famous for writing very good partnerships? (Jago & Lightfoot etc). If so I can really see how he'd be perfect for vila and avon. They had some brilliant banter together. That show had such perfect balance in every department. Dark but funny, deep but accessible. And exactly the right amount of camp. (I'm going to define a unit of campness. I think I'll call it the milli-bodie)

    All the women were great. Cally was my favourite. (Do you remember Anita Dobson in Red Dwarf, she seemed to be channelling Cally a bit?)

    Canonically Dr Who and Blakes 7 are in the same universe. Paul Boucher (?) has written book sequels to his Robots of Death story that crossover with the Federation. Hey I've never written fanfic but I wonder if it's possible to tie in the inventors of Orac and K-9? Maybe they knew each other. I'd like to think they bonded over a shared interest in AI and the disco aesthetic.

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  26. Ugh shame those Chris Boucher books are so terrible though.

    I always loved how Orac was just a plastic box with disco lights in it and galactic wifi. When computers in science fiction still tended to be huge it's cool in retrospect to see one so small and compact. My PC case is the same design (hence the impossibility of me being able to fix the audio sockets myself) even has a few lights inside it which you can see through the clear plastic case.

    I don't have the later Red Dwarfs on dvd so can't recall Anita Dobson in it, but the way Cally developed into the empath always makes me think of her as a proto-type Counsellor Troi, although Cally was handier with a gun.

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  27. Aww that's a bit disappointing; Robots of Death is such a good story. A classic example of the 'talent borrows, genius steals, Dr Who writers get it wholesale off the back of a lorry'. But they repaid Agatha Christie eventually with that wasp story (they possibly owe Dune something too though).

    I think the Orac design still holds up. But then I think the same about K-9 so I'm possibly not to be trusted on such issues. Computer components will be that compact by then. There is a bit of empty space in there; but that's probably a cooling issue. And it's not like electronic devices today don't have mystery flashing lights. Seriously, what do all the ones on the broadband router mean? And your PC proves the point. Come to think of it, Orac is more accessible, you can reach his headphone socket I bet. So he's a great design.

    Anita is only in for a small cameo but she's amazing. It's quite a serious role and she could literally have fitted into the Alien film. She's that good.

    Cally was a lot less wet than Troi (no disrespect to Marina, that was a writer thing). She was totally believable as a terrorist. I did fancy her but there was nothing 'glam' about her, gorgeous though she was. She was a stone killer and that was so great to see in a woman character of the time. Obviously as a pre teen boy it's not like I was reading the female eunuch at bedtime, but even I found it such a refreshing departure from the usual eye candy twisty ankle damsels that were so common in that era.

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  28. I do love Robots of Death so was quite surprised when his books turned out to be almost unreadably poor. Ah well.

    I do think the Orac design holds up too. I always liked how sometimes he'd leave the crew in the lurch because he was busy and couldn't be bothered to help them out of whatever pickle they'd managed to get themselves in that week, so he wasn't just a deus ex machina all the time.

    Troi could be pretty damn awesome when she got good writers like the time she went undercover as a Romulan, but yeah she was pretty ill served most of the time which was a shame.

    But I did like all the women of B7, even Soolin from the much maligned season 4 had a wonderful world weary sarcasm to her that was pretty appealing.

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  29. Heh, I loved Orac's complete indifference to the crew.

    "We nearly died!"

    "So? I was busy"

    He's like an evil K-9 (at least shooty dog thing always came through.)

    Yeah, it's like they didn't know what to do with Troi half the time. Almost like they'd gone 'hot psychic chick worked in Blakes 7 so we'd better have one'. Then 'now what?'. The Romulan episode was good although I couldn't suspend disbelief enough to accept that Troi would be the person they'd use. Of course it's a trope of Star Trek (and TV in general) that mission choices are a bit unrealistic. Dangerous away mission? Best send the three top ranking officers (and that bloke you haven't seen before). I liked that in Encounter at Farpoint they did at least address the issue with the bit about Riker objecting to his previous captain (then ignoring the issue for the rest of the series)

    Another thing you'll undoubtably know is that, because the red shirts were often played by the same stuntman, there's a fan theory that he's an immortal crewman who can come back from the dead (which is why they're never that upset for long).

    I liked Soolin too. The Blake surrogate was a bit disappointing but she was great. Perhaps a bit clean cut looking for the archetypal bad girl, but I liked her cynicism. Of course at the time I probably didn't know what that was, just that it was appealing compared to the usual fare.

    Wish they'd have spent the money they wasted onTorchwood on a new Blakes 7 (or given it to Sarah Jane). That could have been a real opportunity for 'adult' TV in the mature rather than puerile sense. I'm sure Paul Darrow and Jacequeline Pearce would have been up for it (and Gareth Thomas was actually in Torchwood).

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  30. I didn't know about the Immortal Red Shirt theory, I like it though! On a similar note have you heard the new Trek TV series has cast Michelle Yeoh as a recurring character, she'll be the captain of another starship. I may have swooned when I found this out and suddenly I am psyched for the show especially as it's taking place in the Prime (TV) timeline not the Kelvin (new films) timeline.

    Torchwood, eugh what a waste of money that was. I gave it multiple chances and it always let me down. I remember being embarrassed when I found out it was getting a US series, I was like "Jeez no, the American's know what good TV is now, let's not humiliate ourselves like this". I haven't watched it anyway.

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  31. Oh I didn't know it was going to be a TV series. When the 'new series' has been mentioned I thought people meant the films. I've still only seen the first one. I thought that was very good, but the second one just didn't appeal.Now I don't want to get into 'ruined my childhood' mode, but how the flip can you have Khaaaaaaan! and it not be Ricardo Monatalban? It's not even the 'race lifting'. He was a Mexican Sikh guy after all. But it's just one of those examples where the actor and the character are indivisible. Benedict Cummerbund is s fine actor but casting a new Khan is weeing on the cenotaph levels of disrespect. Same with trivialising the best moment in star trek history (spock's sacrifice) by just giving it to kirk and with no consequences for him (as opposed to two brilliant films worth of dealing with that in the original)

    I like Michelle Yeoh though so I'll deffo check out the new series.

    Apparently the Children of Earth story in Torchwood is supposedly very good, but they'd blown any goodwill by that point. Also they were just ripping off Quatermass a bit, although that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dr Who has been doing that for decades. They asked Nigel Kneale to write for Dr Who, but he said the show was 'silly'.

    I love Nigel Kneale though. Some amazing ideas. Also I have a bit of a thing for radio telescopes and standing stones, but even moreso when theyre linked. And that's one of his tropes. One of the many things I love about Cornwall is that at Goonhilly Downs there actually is a standing stone next to a radio telescope :-)

    It's almost magical.

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  32. It's a 13 episode series at first to test the waters. I don't know if it'll go to a full length US season after that, I prefer shorter seasons myself, less filler. Also the main character is apparently going to be a non white female and another male one will be openly gay, I am sure the Manosphere are going to be shrieking about it.

    Star Trek Into Darkness was hands down the worst Star Trek film I have ever seen. Worse than Insurrection and that's harsh.

    It's a shame Nigel Kneale didn't ever write for Who. The story that is very him, The Image Of The Fendhal is one of my fave Who stories.

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  33. It would be a bit weird for people to freak out about star trek of all programmes for doing the diversity thing. The whole vision of the series was to be social justice...IN SPACE!!!

    Rodenberry's entire aim was to show a future where anyone could work together on a starship, whether they be a Russian, a black woman, an alien or a lass he was knocking off. He was a true visionary.

    Kk would have been a perfect writer for Who. He's one of the few people who can create the totally alien. There's nothing wrong with using aliens to highlight human issues by analog, but it's nice every now and then that we deal with something literally incomprehensible. Something we can't apply any human considerations or motives to. You ever seen the original (or even the remake) of Solyaris? That's a great movie about the gulf tjat would occur if we ever encountered a real alien.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson brought up a great point about this. He started with the position that in percentage terms were like only half a % different from chimps. And only a few tens of percent away from jellyfish. He then went onto consider an alien species that was only a few percent different from us, but in the other direction. It's not so much then tjat we wouldn't know how to communicate. It's that such aliens wouldn't even recognise us as something to communicate with. We can speculate about first contact procedures but would aliens even realise we were trying to talk to them? Our message attempts might mean as much to them as a dog barking in the background or crickets chirping. That's something thats rarely addressed in Sci fi. But understandably, it's hard to build a narrative when by definition nothing can be relatable or resolvable. But KK did master that. The novel of the last Quatermass series does go into that in some detail.

    Have you ever seen Kneales 'year of the sex Olympics'?. It's based on a new idea for a TV show where they just put a dozen people in a house and film them 24/. He was a prescient chap.

    Something else you might enjoy is the radio series 'nebulous'. Don't know if you've heard it but it's a very loving, and funny, parody of classic Who and similar programmes. Was deconstructing the tropes well before Mr Moffat got his hands on the show.

    "Why do all alien invasions take place in Britain?"

    "I think it's mainly a tax thing"

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  34. There's a long sad history of writers wanting to put gay people in Trek and receiveing tonnes of hate mail whenever it was posited. FInally it seems those so-called fans wil be ignored, hooray.

    Yeah I've seen Year Of The Sex Olympics, I remember when Big Brother and Survivor and the like started going, "does no one see what's going on here?"

    I haven'the heard "nebulous" sounds fun though!

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  35. Yup, poor old Nigel. Unfortunately there's no copyright in a TV show format (There is a voluntary agreement between TV companies to not rip off too blatantly now). I also remember when all the Battle Royale/Hunger Games controversy was going on pointing out that the last Quatermass serial features government sponsored death matches between kids.

    But anyway, I'm going to try to segue your other two points by fanboying about Nebulous.

    It stars Mark Gatiss and us written by Graham Duff, so it probably scores pretty highly on the Fabulous-o-meter anyway. Within the nebulous universe though gays are an endangered species (as are vegetarians and pigeons) after a universal catastrophe called The Withering. Its still a very inclusive programme though.

    Not sure if you're familiar with Graham Duff. He also wrote that Ideal programme I like. He's in that too. Admittedly as a character that doesn't exactly shatter any stereotypes. (he turns up every episode with a new boyfriend whom he introduces as "This is X. In't he scrummy?" It's all very funny though.

    He's another Who aficionado (think he might have written a few of the books). In Ideal he cosplays as the sixth doctor. But a lot of Who creeps into Nebulous. Some of the episodes are blatant rehashes of the classic stories. Nebulous himself is a Quatermass analog but the organisation he heads is a sort of cross between UNIT and Doomwatch (but nothing like "that awful bunch in Cardiff with the teradactyl")

    Lot of Big Finish alumni involved. And the big bad is played by a certain squee inducing Scottish actor. It's also got David Warner in it, so that's one of my boxes ticked.

    Three series of 6 episodes each. According to the website there were lots of earlier episodes, but they were wiped by the BBC. :-)

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