‘Minister of Chance’ Kickstarter

Minister of ChanceThe podcast version of The Minister of Chance proved that quality audio drama on a grand scale can be brought into being by the sheer force of the masses of us who want it to happen. If you haven’t heard it and you’re here on Bad Wilf reading this, go check it out and tidy the flat with your earbuds in and your heart soaring.

Fan favourites Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Paul Darrow and Tamsin Greig join class acts Julian Wadham, Jenny Agutter and Lauren Crace in a fascinating mix of cavalry and rocketry with a slightly darker tone than Doctor Who but with plenty of charm to match.

A short film – the saga’s introduction – was shot amid the gorgeous countryside and architecture of Britain and also made available for free, with donors getting a peek just a bit earlier.

Two nations brandish an odd mix of weaponry at each other in this world but the clearly more primitive nation in the struggle may not be as helpless as it seems. It’s in this pastoral nation of Tanto that The Minister of Chance parts the curtains of reality, revealing a shimmering ‘frost bridge’ into the unknown.

TODAY begins the Kickstarter to fund the first full episode. Why not tap a few credits into the hovering paypoint and take a seat by this bonfire? The tale told here will be thanks in part to you.

‘Minister of Chance’ micropilot

Minister of Chance
Paul McGann as Durian in The Minister of Chance

The crowdfunded series The Minister of Chance makes its cinematic premiere as a ten-minute pilot film. It follows a successful series of six episodes for audio. As noted in my writeup last year, the story concerns nations brandishing an odd mix of cavalry and rocketry at each other, vying for control of this strange world’s future.

We get the first crucial turn of events in this short, which features Paul McGann as an ambassador to Tanto, an island nation. Tanto’s king is played by Tim McInnerny, last seen by Doctor Who fans in charge of ‘The Planet of the Ood.’ Neither of these Englishmen is wasted in the space given; it’s the second time this winter McGann has shone in short form cinema, having hiked up his profile last November in ‘Night of the Doctor.’

In this visual format, the series is finally allowed to wordlessly express its appealing mix of ‘period’ and futuristic. Writer/director Dan Freeman’s visual language is also a worthy addition to the franchise; the leads are surrounded by non-speaking activity that says much about the unfolding events.

Most importantly, this begins a tale with some bite, which justifies its existence beyond its ability to get funded. I was was pleased nonetheless to see some familiar names in the grateful roll of donors that concludes the short. The release of the micropilot is slated to follow an extended ‘preview period’ of access by donation at MinisterOfChance.com.

Storage 24 MCM panel

Noel Clarke and director Johannes Roberts visited the MCM Expo last month to promote the sci-fi action flick Storage 24 which opens tonight. After the trailer played they answered questions before running a preview clip from the midst of the action.

Unable to find a deal (or a role) that played to his strengths, Clarke wrote and produced the picture in addition to playing the lead. As Clarke describes, this brought restrictions associated with any independent British film:

“What happened with this film, halfway through (this won’t give it away) we wanted some sort of SWAT team thing at the end and we couldn’t afford the sixty or so people that I wanted. They came to us and were like, ‘you can have eight in the SWAT team.’ Fuckin’ eight! Motherfuckin’ eight! That’s not a SWAT team, that’s a group of guys comin’ out of a minivan!

“So I said, what if we scrap that? I said to Johannes, what if we do THIS thing? And I told him this really cool ending. And he said ‘aw, dude that’s so cool, do that.’

Fleeing something monstrous through corridors is a familiar enough idea and the corridors of a self-storage facility are an even more common image (I’ve moved house 3 times in the past 4 years). But the menace of Storage 24 does have a difference – one worth checking out on the big screen if the preview clip was any indication.

Storage 24 opens tonight

‘Turtles’ reboot series previews at MCM

The self-published, 1984 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book brought artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird intense interest from media, movie studios, television and toymakers. Since then, the comic has continued with no end in sight and new rightsholder Nickelodeon intends the slew of animated series, toys and films to continue in force.

Eastman and a sneak preview of the latest CGI-animated series (illustrated at right) came to Britain’s largest genre event, the MCM London Expo this weekend. Also present was Rich Magallanes, a senior VP at Nick focussed on the series’ writing.

‘It comes from a sincere place’ was a phrase used more than once by Eastman. As an artist, he was also struck by the series’ extension of his classic New York skylines into ‘twenty city blocks’ and the re-introduction of the logo design he did back in the ’80s.

Another throwback to the original Turtles is their best human pal, April O’Neil.  Once more it’s she who names the turtles and she’s back in a laboratory instead of being reimagined as yet another plucky girl reporter.

Always controversial has been the direction of the original, violent parody toward a younger audience. ‘We’re trying to touch the whole family,’ says Magallanes, who notes that although ‘they’re not busting heads’ the turtles are still ‘world defenders,’ laying the smackdown upon a variety of inhuman baddies. Nevertheless, ‘they want to be teenagers first, playing around with each other and having fun.’

Magallanes considers the comic and films ‘extensions of the core series’ but both men are keen to allow the comics to remain true to their origins. Peter Laird is taking a much-needed break from the franchise but Eastman is working with IDW on issues of new and reprinted stories. Meanwhile, a fifth Turtles film is currently in production, by Transformers director Michael Bay.

When Bay described the turtles as ‘aliens’ recently instead of mutated Earth turtles, many fans went ballistic. As the movie is in a much earlier stage than the TV series the outcome of this controversy is unclear, although Eastman appreciates the fact that the famous ‘ooze’ that mutated the turtles in the first place can be considered alien in origin. Eastman: ‘Michael Bay’s heart is in exactly the right place.’

Like the film, the TV series will begin its story afresh. ‘We want to reset it and grow it even bigger,’ says Magallanes. He feels the story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lends itself to extended storytelling. ‘We get to live with it.’

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premieres this autumn on Nickelodeon.

Review-Dirk Gently at Home

Dirk’s former clients are turning up dead in the finale of this new trio of episodes. Inspector Gilks finds Dirk at home and what a home it is. The Holistic Detective’s war with his cleaner is evident throughout the house and it’s a good job this trips up Gilks and his men.

None of this troubles Gently, who’s too busy courting his latest client, an attractive blonde lady who has come to the agency to track down her stalker. The receptionist Janice certainly won’t be showing her in and Macduff can barely get a word in edgewise, which is a pity as he’s trying to resign from the partnership.

This episode has all the hallmarks of a finale, with more peril set upon the regular characters than even Dirk himself can provoke gangs in unmarked vans, suspicious drug paraphernalia, knife throwing and even Bible study. The fundamental interconnectedness of all things may have sealed our heroes’ fate this time, but it’s a laugh finding out. Sherlock’s kooky cousin has an unfair advantage in its use of comedy but you can’t keep the new classics down.

Episode three airs on BBC4 tonight, Monday, 19 March at 9 pm. See clips of all three episodes at the page for Dirk Gently at BBC Four.

TV review: Dirk Gently on Campus

With Macduff at his side, Dirk returns to St Cedd’s College Cambridge, from which he was expelled years ago. He’s been invited back by Professor Jericho (Bill Paterson), who may have been the only man to ever truly believe in our clever con artist. Lights go out. Security cameras fail. The professor’s experimental robot vanishes.

This second episode of the series focusses more on its single campus setting versus the dizzying array of urban locations seen previously. It remains full of ideas, nevertheless: online gaming, artificial intelligence, internet protocols and microchip implants are just some of what’s in store.

After an episode’s absence, Helen Baxendale is back as Susan Harmison, GP and girlfriend of Richard Macduff. It’s a credit to actor and production that Susan is realised as well as she is; there’s an undergraduate whimsy to Douglas Adams’ writing and his female characters often suffered at the hands of time, space, causality and drunken male camaraderie. Televised Dirk Gently is fun for the whole campus.

For the Dirk novels, the late Mr Adams reused a few elements of Shada, his unbroadcast script for Doctor Who. Most notable among these are the St Cedd’s college setting and its surprising professor. Showrunner Howard Overman deftly avoids the strictly Doctor Who elements in his adaptation of the books and this episode’s writer, Matt Jones, lends a rather personal touch to the zaniness. The result is another cracking episode: it takes the series into virgin territory and shows that this team can succeed Douglas Adams instead of merely honouring him.

This episode airs on BBC4 Monday, 12 March at 9 pm. There’s a clip here: Dirk Gently at BBC Four

TV review: Dirk Gently Returns

Aired just before the start of 2011, the late Douglas Adams’ novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – and its sequel – were adapted as a television pilot. A number of liberties were taken but all served to drop a twenty-first-century freshness into the eighties stories. Steven Mangan’s intense, goofy performance of the dishevelled, slightly suspect detective was at the centre of this success; the programme’s outing on BBC Four earned itself a follow-up series handily.

With the novels entertainingly adapted, Howard Overman (creator of Misfits) set about spinning Adams’ franchise into a trio of fresh new mysteries. The first of these is more rewarding than many cinema films.

A certain Mr Edwards believes The Pentagon is trying to kill him. Not the building, of course, just some of the people who work there. Suddenly it’s spy satellites, earpieces, breath mints and dark glasses all over the place and Mr Edwards is dead before Dirk and his poor pal Macduff can get a word with him. Hm? Yeah, breath mints.

Doctor Who fans will find a refreshing take on the classic sidekick in Richard Macduff, played by Darren Boyle. Although Macduff is tasked mainly with reacting to Dirk’s manic crusading, Boyle makes an art of it and is given the chance to move from there into some rather amusing power struggles with his dodgy business partner.

The Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things is a genius notion set inside a detective story and it’s part of why this series continues to delight. Once again we’re presented with a constant stream of bizarre nonsequiturs and its down to Dirk to put them together and perhaps get paid this time.

Dirk Gently returns tonight, Monday 5 March at 9 pm on BBC Four.

Star Steven Mangan has written an article on The Making of Dirk Gently.

Doctor Who audio review: The Sirens of Time

In practice, the story’s shape gets in the way. Gallifrey is in a state of crisis, facing destruction at the hands of an overwhelming enemy. And the Doctor is involved in three different incarnations – each caught up in a deadly adventure, scattered across time and space. The web of time is threatened – and someone wants the Doctor dead. The three incarnations of the Doctor must join together to set time back on the right track – but in doing so, will they unleash a still greater threat? (synopsis)

In The Sirens of Time, fan service is performed to a five-star degree. In the first moment of Part One, a Gallifreyan tannoy voice delivers an alert in accurate, Deadly Assassin style. The meeting of the Doctors’ minds later on is a good mix of the sound heard in The Three Doctors and something better suited to accompany the memory flashbacks that the three share.

Each of the three Doctors get an episode to themselves then converge in the conclusion. In practice, this story structure is a bit disorienting. The three short pieces don’t get much time to develop before the fourth on Gallifrey gets into gear. Although the plot seems to have no holes it doesn’t come together in the way I imagine the makers hoped.

Doctor Who is usually better for me in reruns and this was no exception. Doubtless most of the actors will have completely forgotten having done this job but that’s fine with me; they’ve left behind some good performances. I hope they had some laughs and maybe earned a penny or two because my side of the equation’s worked out pretty well.

Check out the trailer.

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